Wednesday, 9 May 2007

The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959)

Kingdom and the BeautyAlthough Diau Charn (1958) is the 1st Huangmei Diao ever made, it was this 2nd Huangmei Opera feature that gave the genre a real boost, and gave this art form a good successful run for almost a decade.

When cars arrived on the streets, people called it a horseless carriage. People saw it as a technological version of the old horse and carriage. When SB introduced moving pictures early on to the HK audience, it wasn't surprising if HK audience viewed it as a technological version of the old theatres or opera stages. So it's natural that many of the movie genres were similar to those that the audience were once could be seen in theatres or opera stages - historical costume dramas, or dramas based on literary classics, or stories from folklore and legends. Indeed, SB made many of these in the 1950s - 60s. Indeed most of the artists were trained in Peking Opera. In fact, this wasn't just truth for movie performers acting in 1950s and 1960s, even later generation of internationally known actors like Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung, etc were trained in this background.

Cinema is superior to the opera stage in many ways: the cheap ticket prices meant that it reached a much wider audience, and the close-up shots meant that even audience in the back rows could see the expressions of the thespians clearly, etc.

For people who are concerning the image quality of the SB movies from 1950s onwards, this print should assure them. In fact, the picture quality of most of the digital remastered SB movies (by Celestial Picture) fair better than any movie produced in HK (other than SB) before 1990.

Kingdom and the BeautyI don't know what is it that make this Huangmei Opera so popular (at the very least when compares to its landmark 1st Huangmei Opera of Diau Charn). Could it because it's a romance with tragic ending (Chinese love tragic love story)? Or the fact that it won Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

The Imperial Guard left the Ming Emperor unaccompanied most of the time in Kiang Nan, he must think that his neck is tougher than an executioner's cold steel blade (the best executioner would give you minimum pain in the neck). Never mind the safety of an unattended emperor from would-be assassins, it also leads to unintended tragedy that's the story of this Huangmei Diao.

As Huangmei Opera is sung in a more 'natural voice', I encourage you to sing along, especially in the 2nd viewing, provided that you know Mandarin. This is a totally acceptable practise. This is karaoke in Huangmei Opera style. In fact, this actually occurred for The Love Eterne (1963). This was not an unique cinema phenomenon (maybe 1 of the earliest, if not THE earliest). The Rocky Horror Picture had been showing in a cinema in Sydney Australia for a period of many years on every Saturday (or is it Friday?), where audience all dressed up like Halloween party attendees and sung alone during the screening.

Health Warning: Once a Huangmei tune is buried deep into your brain, the tune may play in your head over and over again like a broken record, interfering with your love life. It may even drive you insane. You may require lobotomy to alleviate this insidious headache

Fun Facts:
Linda Lin Dai was called the Asian Marilyn Monroe as they were contemporary with on another. Lin Dai dided in 1964 while Monro at 1962.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Diau Charn (1958)

Many of the early SB's historical costume dramas are done in Huangmei Opera format (also called Huangmeixi) from a period of 1950s up until the mid 1960s. Huangmei Diao (黄梅调), sometimes called "Plum Opera" in the West, should be called the "Yellow Plum Opera" to be exact to the literal translation.

Diau Charn (1958)Huangmei Opera isn't hard to appreciate by newbies who want to get into this art form. Unlike the Peking Opera where the falsetto singing sounds to the unaccustomed foreign ears like a cat being strangled. And the soprano singing in Italian Opera drove my mum up the wall (well, she doesn't enjoy Peking Opera either. She's into Huangmei and Chaozhou Opera, which is older than Peking Opera). To the Hong Kong people durian smell like cat droppings (ok, I'll lay off the poor cats). Here's good news, Huangmei tune as it's sometimes called, is quite easy to listen to. It sounds closer to singing in My Fair Lady than either Italian or Peking opera. I said closer. I never said the same.

The opera is said to have came from the Chinese Anhui province that had been modified for cinema production.

Of course, I was too young to understand the lyrics, but still enjoyed the costumes, singing, and those sumptuous SB stage sets, and the story. Today, I can understand lyrics completely. Not that my mandarin have improved - indeed by a lot - but still far short of understanding the singing. It's because those SB Huangmeixi now come with English subtitles!!! It comes with Chinese subs too, but I still prefer English ones. Isn't globalisation great? It's like eating Chinese food with spoon and fork, it won't alter the taste of food. It makes it easier because I haven't completely mastered the chopsticks (shame on me, I know).

It's interesting to note that the backdrop at this time could be easily discerned as oil painting. The situation was greatly improved by as early as the mid 1960s where the backdrop looked much more realistic, and could only be detected with the severest of scrutiny. This could be achieved either with better painting or simply moved the backdrop further away from the act(ors/ress).

Having said that, the backdrop is a minor complaint. Overall, the production was impressive - the costume was fab, the colour glorious, and the stage set handsome.

Watching the digital remastered version of Diau Charn, I'm quite impressed with its quality, considering that the print had been severely damaged with age. The restoration is top notched. Judge it for yourself.

This is also the 1st colour film ever made in SB, thus explains why Celestial Picture put in such effort to restore a this very degraded piece of celluloid out of a library of thousand.

That make this the 1st Huangmei Opera made in HK film industry.

This film is included in my IMDB movie list.