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Peggy Su! (1998)

Courtesy of BBC

Main image of Peggy Su! (1998)
DirectorFrances-Anne Solomon
Production CompaniesDeco Films And Television, BBC Films
ProducersColin Rogers, Poonam Sharma
ScreenplayKevin Wong
Director of PhotographyShelley Hirst
Original MusicPeter Spencer

Cast: Pamela Oei (Peggy), Adrian Pang (Gilbert), Sukie Smith (Rita), Burt Kwouk (Dad), Jacqui Chan (Yee Mah), Daniel York (Jack)

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19-year-old Peggy arrives from Hong Kong to work in the Chinese laundry run by her brother Jack. When her widowed father writes that he has chosen a husband for her, Peggy is determined to marry for love and sets out on a race against time to find her ideal man.

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A romantic comedy set in Liverpool's Chinese community (the oldest and at one point the largest in Britain), Peggy Su! depicts the generational and cultural conflicts experienced by 19-year-old Peggy (Pamela Oei) as she tries to balance respect for her father's wishes with her own views about what constitutes a good marriage. Her three years in Britain have given her language skills but not cultural ones, and she struggles to keep up with rapid social change - the film is set in 1962, just before the Beatles turned everything upside down.

Peggy's not the only one confused: her Liverpudlian sister-in-law Rita (Sukie Smith) worries whether she's 'Chinese' enough for husband Jack (Dan York), especially when her in-laws come for an extended visit. Rita watches helplessly as her relatives erupt into animated Chinese-language arguments, inevitably wondering whether she might not be better off with old flame Brian (Jonathan Arun).

But most of the film concerns Peggy's attempts to find a husband, her three potential suitors posing different dilemmas. There's the safe (i.e. her father's) choice, her socially and physically inept cousin Gilbert (Adrian Pang) - but there's also smoothie restaurateur David (Glen Goei), who despite being thoroughly Anglicised is both Chinese and successful. Not to mention salt-of-the-earth deliveryman Terry (Vince Pellegrino), who ticks neither of those boxes but who might be a better romantic match.

Peggy's problem is that she wants to be a dutiful daughter (David berates her for being "too Chinese" at one point), but no-one else in her family seems especially concerned about playing by the rules. Even her strict father Jerry (Burt Kwouk) is quite happy to take a wife not much older than Peggy - and Jackie (Daphne Cheung) switches between strict mother-in-law and sultry Jackie Kennedy-inspired glamour-puss whenever it suits her. Jerry claims to be concerned about "saving face", but Peggy ultimately does far more to keep the family together, even at the risk of very public humiliation.

The first feature film to receive National Lottery funding (the rest of the money was put up by the BBC), Peggy Su! was written by Anglo-Chinese playwright Kevin Wong, who drew on his own roots as the son of two Chinese émigrés who worked in the laundry business. It won a Royal Television Society award for its costumes, the judges commending Joey Attawia's resourcefulness in creating such a colourful range on a clearly limited budget.

Michael Brooke

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Video Clips
1. Fatherly advice (3:59)
2. A misunderstanding (2:35)
3. The rivals (1:21)
4. Wedding disaster (3:56)
Chinese Whispers (2000)
Kwouk, Burt (1930- )
British-Chinese Cinema
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