Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Wutai jiemei / Two Stage Sisters (2011 2K DCP from CFA)

舞臺姐妹 (trad) / 舞台姐妹 (simple) / Stage Sisters / [Näyttelijäsisarukset]. CN 1964. PC: Studio Tianma (Shanghai). P: Ding Li. D: Xie Jin. SC: Lin Gu, Xu Jin, Xie Jin. DP: Zhou Daming, Chen Zhenxiang. M: Huang Zhun. ED: Zhang Liqun. C (Wikipedia):
    Xie Fang as Zhu Chunhua (竺春花), the main protagonist, a Yue Opera performer. Originally a tongyangxi [child bride], she is adopted and later excelled in the dan [female lead] role. She becomes a leftist and performs revolutionary operas.
    Cao Yindi as Xing Yuehong (邢月红), daughter of Teacher Xing. She plays the xiaosheng (male) parts. Enticed by Manager Tang to forsake her art, but is abused frequently until reunited with sworn sister, Chunhua.
    Feng Qi as Teacher Xing (邢师傅), father of Yuehong, a Yue Opera teacher.
    Gao Aisheng as Jiang Bo (江波), a "progressive" leftist lady reporter
    Shen Fengjuan as Xiaoxiang (小香), a former troupe performer who plays supporting roles. Later reunited with Chunhua.
    Xu Caigen as Jinshui (金水), Xiaoxiang's husband and former troupe member.
    Shangguan Yunzhu as Shang Shuihua (商水花), an aging former star in the Shanghai opera scene, a former mistress of Manager Tang who was jilted. She later hangs herself.
    Ma Ji as Qian Dakui (钱大奎), a Yue performer at the Shanghai theater
    Luo Jingyi as Yu Guiqing (俞桂卿), a Yue performer at the Shanghai theater
    Wu Bofang as Little Chunhua (小春花), a village tongyangxi who is Chunhua's namesake.
    Li Wei as Manager Tang (唐经理), the unscrupulous stage manager and theater owner who keeps Shang and Yuehong as his mistresses.
    Deng Nan as A'xin the “Monk” (和尚阿鑫), the former troupe owner, a not-so-educated boor who will do anything for money.
    Shen Hao as Ms. Shen (沈家姆妈), a wealthy heiress who tries to adopt Chunhua and has illicit dealings with Manager Tang.
    Dong Lin as Third Master Ni (倪三老爷), a provincial landlord who tries to take Yuehong for sexual favors.
    Ding Ran as Commissioner Pan (潘委员), a Kuomintang official intent on ruining Chunhua and her revolutionary opera troupe. (Cast listing from Wikipedia)
    115 min, our screening 113 min
    Digitized edition (2011, 2K DCP): Zhongguo Dianying Ziliaoguan / China Film Archive (CFA). [There is a 2014 4K restoration conducted by Immagine Ritrovata in Bologna.]
    2K DCP with English subtitles from CFA viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Treasures of Chinese Cinema), 16 Sep 2015

Synopsis from Wikipedia: "In 1935 a runaway tongyangxi [child marriage bride], Zhu Chunhua, takes refuge at an itinerant Yue Opera troupe performing at a Shaoxing village. The head of the troupe, A’Xin, intends to send the girl away, but Yue Opera teacher Xing, seeing her potential, takes Chunhua in as a disciple and trains her. Chunhua signs a deal with the troupe and becomes the performing partner (in a dan [female lead] role) to the teacher’s daughter Yuehong, the latter performing as a xiaosheng [female in a male role]."

"A rich provincial landlord Ni invites Chunhua and Yuehong to sing at his house privately after the troupe reaches his province. He takes an interest in Yuehong; however, Yuehong and her father spurn his interest and as a result, Kuomintang cops forcibly seize Yuehong one day during a performance. Chunhua is also arrested and tied to a pillar for days as “public humiliation”. The two are released after Xing and A’Xin send bribes to the KMT cops."

"During the Second Sino-Japanese War, Yuehong, Chunhua and the troupe go through hard times. In 1941, Teacher Xing dies of an illness, and troupe master A’Xin sells his two best performers to Tang, a Shanghai opera theater manager, on a three-year contract. Yuehong and Chunhua, now sworn sisters, rapidly become Tang’s biggest stars, causing Tang to forsake his aging star and former lover, Shang Shuihua."

"Three years elapse. Yuehong and Chunhua are renowned in the city. Chunhua remains down-to-earth but Yuehong grows steadily more materialistic. Sick of having to sing opera for life, Yuehong rashly agrees to Tang's proposal, but Chunhua distrusts Tang and refuses to support Yuehong’s marriage plans. Unbeknownst to Yuehong, Tang already has a wife, and is keeping her as a mistress."

"One day faded ex-star Shang commits suicide by hanging herself backstage. Chunhua is incensed that Tang, her former lover, attempts to shirk his responsibilities by claiming he has nothing to do with her death. Through this episode, Chunhua gets to know a "radical" lady journalist Jiang, who advises her to become "progressive" to teach other Chinese to distinguish between truth and falsehood. She starts performing “progressive” operas like an adaptation of Lu Xun’s ‘’The New Year Sacrifice’’."

"Chunhua’s works alert the KMT regime who gives Tang the task to ruin Chunhua's reputation. They get A’Xin to file a lawsuit against Chunhua and Manager Tang coerces Yuehong to testify against Chunhua, but at the crucial moment in the courtroom, Yuehong faints."

"The film ends in 1950, one year after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Chunhua prepares to perform The White-Haired Girl for country folks at Zhejiang. Tang has run off to Taiwan with the KMT cohort and Yuehong is quietly abandoned at Shaoxing province. Although Yuehong witnesses Chunhua’s drama, she is too ashamed to face her sworn sister again. Near a quay later the day, however, the sisters manage a tearful reunion. On the boat the following day, Yuehong vows to learn her lesson and walk the "correct" path while Chunhua dedicates her entire life to performing revolutionary operas.
" (synopsis from Wikipedia)

AA: Sources report that the director Xie Jin himself was unhappy with the second half of Wutai jiemei, one of the last Chinese films made before the Cultural Revolution.

Indeed, the two halves are very different. The first half is a very engaging melodrama, the second half more schematical and forced. As if the Cultural Revolution had happened during the filming, and Xie Jin would have been forced to finish his movie with the approach of a revolutionary model opera.

Wutai jiemei starts gloriously with a montage of traditional Chinese buildings proceeding to epic distant views of landscapes with a mighty river. When the crane shot descends majestically into an open-air performance of the all-female opera troupe I'm reminded of the opening sequences of Fritz Lang and Kenji Mizoguchi. In the first half of the film there is a profound understanding of the metaphor of the stage as life worthy not only of George Cukor and Vincente Minnelli but also of Jean Renoir (Le Carrosse d'or). Wutai jiemei is a road movie about an opera troupe touring through China and through history: from the still feudalistic conditions in 1935 until the establishment of the People's Republic.

The first half of the film is magisterial film-making. Xie Jin is in full command of all aspects of mise-en-scène, and his sense of colour and movement is no less eloquent than in Cukor's Bhowani Junction. I was thinking about Hoyningen Huene, Cukor's valued colour consultant. The first half is at once stylized like a musical or an opera but also with a firm grip on reality, the conditions of life in China attacked by Japanese invaders and torn by an internal struggle between Kuomingtang and the Communists. The poetic unity of music, colour and movement is touching.

The arrival to Shanghai is still engaging. Wutai jiemei is a film about the liberation of women from feudalistic, patriarchal oppression where they are seen as property that can be bought and sold, and when they resist, they can be tied to a pillory. The previous star-mistress of the Shanghai opera house owner is discarded unceremoniously, and she hangs herself. There is a basic solidarity between the women which the patriarchs fail to break.

In the second half of the movie caricatures start to emerge and the film fails to convince. The propaganda is crude and obvious.

Music is essential in the movie, and it is often carried via songs.

In the electronic subtitles texts of billboards and newspapers are left untranslated. Fortunately, many important song lyrics are translated.

The colour cinematography is excellent and the digital edition does justice to the refined colour world.


Kulttuurivallankumous oli tuhoisa Kiinan elokuvalle. Syksyyn 1966 tultaessa Chengchun- ja Tianma-studioiden koko tuotanto oli pysäytetty tai hyllytetty. Keskeisissä elokuvateattereissa uudet dokumenttielokuvat syrjäyttivät näytelmäelokuvat. Pian punakaartien muodostamisen jälkeen lehdistössä ilmestyi useita julkilausumia, joissa tuomittiin uudet elokuvat tai järjestettiin niille ”kansan tuomio”: näihin ”puolueen tai sosialismin vastaisina elokuvina kritisoitaviin elokuviin” kuului myös Näyttelijäsisarukset.

Xie Jinin elokuva rakentuu ikään kuin kahdesta hieman epäsuhtaisesta osasta. Ensimmäinen osa kuvaa teatteriryhmän vaiheikasta matkaa, kirjallisen prosessin mukaan joka on enemmän tai vähemmän sukua vaikkapa Théophile Gautierin Capitaine Fracasselle. Toinen osa tapahtuu shanghailaisessa teatterissa ja rajoittuu enemmän varsinaisiin ”teatraalisiin” asetelmiin. Ryhmän matka sijoittuu feodaalisiin kehyksiin ja sisältää äärimmäisiä, miltei goottilaisia tilanteita: lääninherra nöyryyttää seuruetta, jonka johtaja puolestaan tekee näyttelijäsisaruksista käytännöllisesti katsoen orjiaan.

Asettuminen kaupunkiin osuu yhteen Kuomingtang-vaiheen kanssa ja tällöin ohjaaja Xie Jin omaksuu äkkiä (länsimaisen) jännityselokuvan estetiikan ja kielen: kaupunkiympäristöstä tulevat siis mukaan siihen luonnollisesti liittyvät elokuvalliset koodit. Hyvin loogisesti, melodraaman ekonomian mukaisesti draamat jäsentävät kerrontaa sysätäkseen sen äkkiä eteenpäin. Ensin on miltei mizoguchilainen hirttäytymisdraama: vanha näyttelijätär joutuu syrjään nuoren Chunchuan menestyksen myötä ja päätyy itsemurhaan; sitten seuraavat Chunchuaan itseensä perätysten kohdistuvat aggressiot.

Tietysti kiertävän teatteriseurueen aihe voidaan nähdä myös renoirlaisena metaforana. Painopiste ei kuitenkaan ole fiktion ja todellisuuden keskinäisessä leikissä ja vuorovaikutuksessa, eikä edes näyttelijättärien tulkitsemissa tarinoissa. Lopussa kehä kiertyy umpeen: Chunchua liittyy vallankumoukselliseen teatteriryhmään ja esittää sankarillisia sotilaallisia kohtauksia. Lopetuksen sovinnainen voitokkuus on helppo kokea häiritsevänä; ohjaaja itsekin on kertonut asettavansa elokuvan ensimmäisen puolen etusijalle. Mutta loppu on toisaalta hyvin kaunis, etenkin jaksoissa joissa Chunchua jälleen saapuu uransa alun tyyssijoille ja kokee tuskallisen menneisyytensä. Xie Jinin kuvastossa sinänsä on voimaa ja merkitystä joka sulkee pois dialektisen yhteyden tai puhtaasti verbaalisen tason välttämättömyyden. Niinpä tämä tarina kahdesta näyttelijättärestä, jotka nousevat ryysyistä rikkauksiin, voidaan määritellä häikäiseväksi melodraamaksi, joka sisältää sekä musikaalin, kulissientakaisen draaman, jännityselokuvan, oikeussalidraaman että poliittisen moraliteetin aineksia.

– Jay Leydan (Dianying, 1972) ja Vincent Ostrian (Cahiers du Cinéma, Janvier 1985) mukaan, kreduja tarkisti JS 2015

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