Peking Opera classics get modern touch

Updated: May 16, 2023 By Xu Fan China Daily Print
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A still of The You Sisters of the Red Chamber.[Photo provided to China Daily]

His third movie for the project — after The Orphan of Zhao and Xie Yaohuan — Silang Visits His Mother casts a group of established Peking Opera artists, such as actor Zhang Jianfeng and actress Dou Xiaoxuan, to retell a legend set during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

The tale, which originated in the 16th century, tells the story of Yang Yanhui, nicknamed Silang, the fourth son of a renowned general. He is captured and forced to marry the daughter of Empress Dowager Xiao, his enemy and a powerful ruler from the Liao Dynasty (916-1125). Fifteen years later, the protagonist discovers that his long-separated mother has succeeded his late father as the new leader of a Northern Song army, so he decides to risk his life and escape the Liao palace to reunite with his family.

"The play is one of the earliest Peking Opera classics and has been staged many times over the past century, with most Peking Opera masters putting their own unique spin on it. When I was first tasked with directing this movie, I felt quite stressed," recalls Ma Chongjie.

On the project, which took an excess of eight months to complete, the director used advanced filming techniques, such as virtual cinematography, to combine traditional stage performance with special effects. In doing so, he brought to life this ancient tale, which also touches on themes of wartime romance.

"Usually, die-hard fans who often visit opera theaters primarily listen to their favorite plays, rather than watch them, as they are already familiar with the lyrics and lines," says Ma Chongjie. "By using visual effects to fill in the gaps in the imagination, these Peking Opera movies will draw more attention to the settings and close-ups, adding another layer of significance."

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