Monday, September 7, 2009

The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959)

The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959)

September 10th, 6:30PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

In 1958 Director Li Han Hsiang created a cinematic hybrid of the traditional Huangmei opera type. The result was the period epic Diau Charn (1958) which began a trend that would make Huangmei opera films one of the most popular cinematic genre of Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia for nearly a decade. He would go on to direct many more of these films, but three of them would be singled out as the greatest classics of the type. Diau Charn, The Kingdom and the Beauty (1959) and The Love Eterne (1963). They would respectively win Best Director and then Best Film at the Asian Film Awards and Taiwan’s Golden Horse award for Best Director.

Huangmei Opera originally came from China’s Anhui Provence and is one of dozens of regional opera forms. The name literally mean Yellow Plum Tunes and its unique elements include restrained movements and frequent repetition of action and lyric. Before 1958 the two dominant opera forms in Hong Kong cinema were Cantonese and Beijing Opera, but for a period of roughly eight years they faced major cinematic competition.

The plot of Kingdom is based upon a myth regarding a Ming Dynasty Emperor who journeies into the countryside in disguise and falls in love with a beautiful courtesan. The star of the film is Linda Lin Dai, who plays the courtesan. She was one of the prominent superstars of the era and in 1959 was only gaining in popularity. Her tragic 1964 suicide has left the actress with a mythic and eternal quality in popular memory.

The Huangmei Opera type is closely associated with Hong Kong’s massive Shaw Brothers Studio. These films became their major prestige pictures and were lavished with time and resources. They became a major weapon in their battle against the MP&GI studio, later renamed Cathey for dominance. Some of the major hallmarks of their films are lavish color cinematography, exquisite costumes and grand sets.
Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang, Cast Linda Lin Dai, Li Jen Ho, Bo Hong and King Hu, 95 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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