Two Stage Sisters - Wutai jiemei (1965) Dir by Jin Xie
A heavily melodramatic political piece with easily identifiable good and bad guys, as operatic in its storytelling as it is in the stage performances.
The rescue of a child-bride from a forced wedding by a travelling Chinese Opera troupe sets the wheels in motion for a sisterly friendship that would endure a 15+ year journey.
A journey that would take us through a time where men, particularly those of wealth believed they had the power to treat women as objects to be used and cast away, disposable commodities, a bartering tool for the corrupt (a word used repeatedly to describe the decadent capitalists).
The child bride and the daughter of her rescuer become firm friends and the stars of the opera company, safety and security from unwanted admirers isn't an issue for them with the protection of the father, but his health takes a turn for the worse and he eventually dies leaving them in the debt (for his funeral costs) of the opera company boss.
Unlike the father, the company boss is a greedy manipulative worm who would probably sell his own mother. Taking the girls to Shanghai he gets them employed with an opera house ensuring that he will receive their pay for the next three years. The strength and bond of sisterly love plus their talents as performers maintain the girls through these lean, harsh years though corrupting influences abound threatening to tear their bond apart with promises of wealth and fame.
One of the girls does fall into a state of corruption, despite all the warnings she ends up in a relationship with the owner of the opera house, believing that a loveless but wealthy marriage will be an easy option to happiness. Her marriage brings no happiness to her at all, the only thing it does manage to do is to cause a huge rift between the two friends.
But this tale is brought to a heady conclusion with the joy that the Chinese revolution brings, the corrupt are driven out and the bonds of sisterhood and friendship are strengthened. True happiness is then found as the friends finally reunite and determine to produce and perform revolutionary opera for the masses.
This is only a general skip through the plot and the film has plenty of melodramatic moments and some wonderful operatic performances, of course Chinese Opera is completely different from the variety produced by Europe, swooping high pitched singing with extravagant costumes and make up, definitely an aqquired taste but well worth making the effort for.
The actual message of the film is simplistic, with Chiang Kai-shek made to look like some sort of gangster and even the U.S. getting a less than positive mention. The film was afer all, made for a general audience and women in particular to emphasise how Communism had bettered their conditions and how the bonds of sisterhood provided strength and solidarity.
Despite the obvious political overtones (or maybe because of them), this film is definitely worth seeking out. I'm glad I took the opportunity to see this rarely screened gem.
A definite recommendation if you ever get the chance to see it.