(A Little Life-Opera)
Hong Kong / China 1997
Dir: Allen Fong
90 min., 35mm, 1:1.37, Color, WP
Produktion: Fujian Film Studio, Great Root Ltd. Buch: Chen Shi-Zhe, Chen Jian-Zhong. Kamera: Mai-Quan. Licht: Jiang Yang. Ausstattung: Liu Nan-Yang. Kostüme: Lu Yue-Ying. Requisite: Weng Pei-Xing. Musik: Violet Lam. Beratung (Oper): He Qing-He. Schnitt: Guo Qiang, Ly Yu-Huai. Produzent: Zhang Shao-Tong. Ausführende Produzenten: Ann Hui, Yoa Wen-Tai.
Darsteller: Winston Chao (Sanpeng), Yang Gui-Mei (Xueyan, Sängerin und Anführerin der Truppe), Zeng Jing-Ping (Liliang, 1. huadan), You Chun-Cheng (Baotian, der Clown), Liu Shao-Xia (Xiaoxue, die Tochter), Ke Shu-Ping (Lanying, Adoptivtochter), Chen Ning-Xian (Xianjun, Kriegskunst-huadan), Lin Lian-Xian (Xiaode, kleine huadan), Chen Ying-Hong (Deng, Xiaodes Freund), Zheng Xiu-You (Yuhuan, 2. kleine huadan), Lu Wen-Xiong (Xiaozhuang, Yuhuans Freund und späterer Ehemann), Ren Yong (Jing, Wohltäter), Wu Xiao-Ting (Mrs. Li, Sanpengs Ehefrau), Hong Shi-Feng (alter Mann, Sanpengs Schwiegervater), Cai Jing-Xiang (Erniu, Restaurant-Besitzer), Ni Wan-Liang (Tang, Opern-Manager), Xie Tian-Yu (Adeshi, Musiker), Chen You-Mou (Teacher Pan).
Uraufführung: 21.2.1997, Internationales Forum des Jungen Films.
Kontakt: Great Root Limited, Flat H, 11th floor, Tonnochy Towers B, 254 Jaffe Road, Wanchai, Hongkong. Tel.: (852) 251 96 548, Fax: (852) 251 90 462.
Fri 21.02. 18:45 Delphi Fri 21.02. 21:00 Kino 7 im Zoo Palast Sat 22.02. 15:00 Arsenal Sun 23.02. 17:00 Akademie der Künste
Fujian is situated in the South Eastern part of China next to Taiwan. Historically, it has always been very remote from Central Beijing. Legend says that long before Columbus discovered America, Fujian was a place booming with international trade and commerce. A seaport like Quanzhou was the first leg of the Ocean Silk Road leading towards Japan, India, Asia Minor and Europe. The rural area of Fujian still looks very traditional and is a little behind as far as ,modernization' is concerned. Commerce is booming again and many people have become millionaires overnight. When you have money you can build houses, you can pay respect to your ancestors. Some men even look for a second wife, a practice which is illegal in China.
In an average village of 500 people in Fujian, there are at least two venues for impromptu stage performances. This means that audiences either stand or bring their own chairs. In addition, there are Karaoke joints at every street corner. These are like modern stages where anyone can be a performer. The large number of unofficial theater performances to celebrate birthdays, weddings, funerals and the passing of college entrance examinations proves that Fujian is on the brink of becoming an affluent society. The majority of people on stage are looking for fun and a better income. A small percentage also want to become artists. They are under greater pressure, yet find this pressure worthwhile. Others give up the theater to work in business and trade. A jam session in the afternoon primarily fulfills a psychological need: to feel alive. This is a story about theater, about these people, about their lives.
A word of thanks to my excecutive producer - director Ann Hui. She initiated this project at the end of 1995. The success of Summer Snow and her support afterwards has made everything possible for this film.
Most of the cast are artists from the official and unofficial theater groups. They have little camera experience but ample training and exposure on stage. Zeng Jing-Ping is a prize winning opera singer, she plays Liliang (the leading huadan and the clown's wife) in the film. She is now the head of the Quanzhou Liyung Opera Troupe. With her help I was able to pull all these talented actors and actresses together.
Xueyan works in Erniu's restaurant when she isn't acting. She is about thirty and is the leader of an unofficial theater troupe. Mr. Tang of Xi Tang village comes to book her theater troupe. Xueyan informs Mr. Pan, who is a primary school teacher and also plays cello in the orchestra, that they will perform the next day. At night everyone comes to Xueyan's place, which is also the staff quarters and the home of the troupe. The clown, Baotian, continually practises his trade and tries to make people laugh.
The next morning they go by motorbike to Xi Tang village, where they plan to spend a few days. Before nightfall they have to go through the village streets persuading people to come and watch the performance. It is raining. Xueyan and Sanpeng seek shelter under the same roof. They recognise one another. Sanpeng tells Xueyan that he has given up the puppet theater he used to run and has now become a businessman; she invites him to see the show.
Dinner is served to the whole troupe at the back of a temple, in temporary kitchens. Over dinner, Mr. Tang takes the opportunity of asking Xueyan to include a striptease show in the performance. Xueyan handles the situation with great capability, rejects the idea of a strip show, but promises a lively performance. Mr. Tang has to accept because he has no one to back him up.
Sanpeng arrives at Xi Tang village in his Mercedes; he and Mr. Jin (another rich man) dine at the balcony of a restaurant from where they can see the show. They laugh at themselves for having turned rich overnight. Mr. Tang comes in and tells Mr. Jin that the Opera troupe is not prepared to comply with his wish of a striptease show. Mr. Jin is angry and insists on having a strip show, but Sanpeng comes to Xueyan's rescue by taking her side and then inviting everyone to a drink afterwards.
Riding on his motorbike, Mr. Pan, the school teacher and cellist, has an accident.
Instead of a striptease show, the football dance is a success. After the performance, they celebrate at the Karaoke Dance Hall. While they are dancing, Sanpeng thanks Xueyan for hiding him during the Cultural Revolution and realises that deep inside he wants to be a musician. Xueyan tells Sanpeng that she has been in love with him since she was a child, when she hid him from the authorities during a raid on the village where he was performing his puppet show. They sing a duet. The Cultural Revolution modern opera song ,The Red Lantern' reminds them of their lovely childhood.
Meanwhile, back home, the female martial art huadan (female opera singer at the Chinese Opera), Aunt Mei, is encouraging Lanying to be patient during her training for the stage. Lanying is an apprentice, training to become a huadan; she is about the same age as Xiaoxue, Xueyan's daughter. They are great friends and share the dream of becoming actresses. Xiaoxue worries that her mother will force her to go into college to study English; Lanying advises her to study performing arts at college so as to get a good education and become a good huadan.
After Sanpeng has seen Xueyan home, Xueyan wakes her daughter up to read her the script ,Chant of the Good Widow'. She wants Sanpeng to see this opera tomorrow because it expresses her feelings for him.
Mr. Pan is robbed again.
Sanpeng returns and watches the troupe doing their make-up and rehearsing on stage. He even enjoys playing music with the orchestra. His wife phones and tries to persuade him to return home because the tax authorities have paid a surprise call. Sanpeng insists on staying with the troupe for the rest of the day.
During the performance of ,Chant of the Good Widow', Sanpeng and Xueyan watch from backstage. They stand very close together, but Sanpeng does not realise that Xueyan wants him to hold her.
Xiaode, one of the seven huadans in Xueyan's theatre troupe has a fight with her boyfriend during a break. He hits her so hard that she cannot perform for the rest of the evening. Sanpeng helps out by playing an extra on stage.
Sanpeng's wife appears at exactly the wrong moment, and sees Sanpeng holding Xueyan tenderly in his arms.
Xueyan has mixed feelings when Sanpeng leaves after two happy days spent with the theater troupe. When his Mercedes refuses to start, she almost asks him to stay for the rest of the night.
The next morning the troupe is back home again, four of the seven huadans are having breakfast together in the kitchen area. They start talking about men because they are all in search of love.
The heavy load of props has caused Baotian's lorry to turn over. He is trying to fix it while Xueyan and Liliang pass by. Binbin is so upset that she cries loudly. Baotian puts on a show as if he were on stage to make everyone laugh.
Xueyan treats Lanying like her own daughter and wants her to take the college entrance exam with Xiaoxue. The two girls admit that they have been lying and that Xiaoxue has applied for the school of performing arts. Xueyan herself is illiterate and cannot understand why the girls are passing off the chance for a good education. However, as a good mother, she gives them the freedom to do what they want. Xueyan and the rest of the theater troupe see the two girls off at the bus station; they are on their way to take the entrance exams for the school of performing arts in Beijing. Then another huadan leaves the troupe to get married, so three out of the seven have gone.
Before Sanpeng returns from a business trip, his wife makes a big business deal, claiming there is no need for invoices or quotations. Sanpeng also discovers that his wife has hired Mr. Jin's theater group to perform at his father-in-law's birthday party. He suspects that Mr. Jin is not a good Opera producer.
Baotian the clown cries in front of the others because his wife has run away with Mr. Jin.
The show goes on but, as Sanpeng predicted, the father-in-law's birthday party is not a success. Mrs. Li has to ask Sanpeng to come to the rescue. Liliang runs back to Xueyan to ask for help.
Xueyan pays someone to write a letter congratulating the two girls on passing their entrance exams. She throws a party for them when they return from Beijing. During the party, Sanpeng announces that he has to leave the stage temporarily and that he will probably end up in jail because of tax evasion. This news effects everyone deeply but the show goes on as if nothing had happened. Xueyan displays subdued emotion by holding Sanpeng's hand a few seconds longer than usual.
The next morning, the theater troupe sees Sanpeng off to the tax office. They have put up a banner which reads: „Opera - the love of my life". Xueyan is certain that Sanpeng belongs on the stage.
Allen Fong (Fong Yuk Ping) was born in 1947, the year of the pig. Ann Hui, Edward Yang and Hou Xiao Xian (Hou Hsiao Hsien) were born in the same year. They all belong to a generation which has a passion for cinema and have devoted their lives to making ,quality' films. Allen studied in the USA for five years in the 1970's and earned his degree from the University of Southern California Cinema School. He returned to Hong Kong and joined the TV station RTHK (Radio Television Hong Kong). In the 1980s he became a freelance filmmaker. He has made five films and more than 20 TV features, all of them documentary-style films, closely related to real life. His latest film A little Life Opera is the first film he has made in mainland China. Many of his films have won awards, including Best Director from the Hong Kong Academy awards.
1977: Ye Hai Zi (The Wild Children); Yuan Zhou Zai Zhi Ge (Song of Yuen Chau Chai). 1981: Fu Zai Qing (Father and Son). 1983: Ban Bian Ren (Ah Ying). 1986: Mei Guo Xin (Just like Weather). 1988: Zhai Feng (The Vegetarian); Xi Feng (The Opera Singer). 1989: Wu Niu (Dancing Bull). 1992: Me De Qi (Queen of the Alley). 1997: Yi Sheng Yi Tai Xi (A Little Life-Opera).
© 1997 by International Forum of New Cinema. All rights reserved.