Friday, June 01, 2007

Huangmei Opera Films - 黄梅調

The Huangmei Opera Films are a style of Chinese film originating from Huangmei folk songs that dealt with romance, the pastoral life and hardship. As the folk songs evolved into a minor (later major) opera style, so did the story as it moved to film format. The HOF was probably hottest during the '60s as Hong Kong studios adapted it into a popular film genre. The most notable of these would be the Shaw Brothers (the guys Tarrentino "borrowed" from in his Kill Bill movies). The films all contained elements of morality, heroism, love and Confucianism.

This Wednesday, having the choice of watching Van Damme on two channels or James Brolin, I flipped to the Chinese-language stations and caught the Shaw Scope intro. The Pearl Phoenix, hmmm. Sounds possible. Maybe it's a knife, a pirate or another crazy Chinese mythological creature. Nope. It's a hairpin. For two hours I watched trying to figure out what the phoenix tie-in was. All I can surmise is that in ancient China they were so bored moving their hands flowingly and moving at lava-lamp speed, that they resorted to giving commonplace objects more exciting names. Servant! Bring me one bleeding dragon's tooth and a stack of gilt unicorn foreskin (pen and paper).

I watched it all. Even had to postpone class for 10 minutes to finish it. It was like an Our Gang musical in freakish Wizard of Oz color. The ubiquitous Chinese Erhu was bowed, cymbals clanged and the clapping thing clapped - a lot. Songs were sung in the key of Alfalfa, though in tune, and all expressions were of Buckwheat subtlety.

It wasn't the story that kept me hooked, it was the lead male role, which was played by a woman. The HOF (and operas, as well) routinely use females in male roles. Okay, but this one really looked like s/he was in love with the girl. Two hours of looking at the girl like Floyd the Barber learning he just got another chair for the shop gets a little eerie. S/he doesn't look anything like a man. Midway through the movie his gal starts to masquerade as a man. So we have an actress portraying a man in love with a woman who passes herself off as a man. That's a script. And 40 years ago, too. Love finally works its way with the two, though I won't tell you how. You'll have to watch it yourself.


Red A said...

I've seen those movies...excellent!

Bread said...

and you skipped aj's dinner for this?