Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Love Eterne (1963)

The Love Eterne (1963)

October 16th, 7:00PM in Garland 104 (2441 E. Hartford)

Few films of any Chinese cinema have left impressions felt as deeply as The Lover Eterne. It could be viewed as a culmination of the Huangmei Opera genre that had been growing in popularity for almost a decade, made by the director that given it its modern cinematic form. In 1955 a Mainland Chinese Huangmei Opera film who’s English title is The Heavenly Match became popular in Hong Kong and surrounding regions. It was a typical Opera adaption for its time, in many ways purely a filmed stage performance with a limited cinematography. Director Li detected what he thought was an opportunity and convinced the Shaw Brothers studio head Run Run Shaw to give him a relatively large budget to produce a Huangmei Opera film in color, still a rarity at the time. This film was Diau Charn (1958) based upon the character from the Romance of Three Kingdoms. In it he altered the traditional form of regional Huangmei Opera and made it more cinematic and in other senses modernized it. It became a huge critical and financial success and suddenly everyone was jumping onboard to make Huangmei Opera films.

Diau Charn was the first of three Huangmei Opera films directed by Li which would come to be viewed as the cornerstones of the genre. The second was The Kingdom and The Beauty a year later in 1959. In its he would experiment with creating an even stronger cinematic Opera style then before. Its success was much greater then his previous film. After this he would direct several Hungmei and other period films winning great acclaim. In 1963 the Huangmei trend in Hong Kong was still strong, but had lost some of the fever pitch of five years earlier. At this point Li created his third great Huangmei film, The Love Eterne. Based upon the Tang Dynasty folk tale of the butterfly lovers it was shot on location in Japan, although much of this is still in a studio as Hong Kong film production was still in the process of modernizing.
Upon its release The Love Eterene was well received in Hong Kong, but its true impact was felt elsewhere. It was popular throughout South-East Asia and would continue to play for more then a year in the Shaw owned theaters of the region. This was nothing compared to its reaction in Taiwan. It swept the second annual Golden Horse awards, winning in virtually every category including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. Its soundtrack would become an all time best seller and its theatrical run would go on for years. It can arguably be called the most popular film in the history of Taiwanese domestic consumption.
Now a little about the Opera form. Huangmei Opera originally came from China’s Anhui Provence and is one of dozens of regional opera forms. The name literally means Yellow Plum Tunes and its unique elements include restrained movement 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 from Huangmei Opera films.

The story of the Butterfly Lovers involves the daughter of a wealthy family, here played by Betty Loh Ti, who disguises herself as a man to attend advanced schooling. There she befriends another scholar played by Ivy Ling Po. She falls in love with him and starts a chain of events that challenges fate. Ivy Ling Po became a popular figure in Huangmei films, usually playing a man. This might cause some confusion to Western viewers, as a large number of these films such as Love Eterne already involve a woman cross-dressing to pass herself as a man for whatever plot device is applicable. Men playing women were very common in other opera types, especially before the 1970's but Huangmei is unique in that the trend was reversed. The Love Eterne is a testament to an era of Hong Kong film making that was creatively transitional and sadly frequently ignored by modern audiences.

Hong Kong, Director Li Han Hsiang, Cast Betty Loh Tih, Ivy Ling Po, Yam Kit, Chen Yan Yan, Lee Kwan and Cheng Miu, 122 minutes, in Mandarin with English subtitles.

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