(originally published on: Jun 2, 2011)
Once again, here is a collaboration between Fern (who has a superb blog on Beijing Opera herself) and myself to present a very special Beijing Opera video. Fern passed on these files to me and three weeks later when I got around to viewing them, I was bowled over. I immediately asked her if I could post these myself.
What is absolutely wonderful about this production is that it is a real production. It has snappy camera work that demonstrates just how dynamic a Beijing Opera can be, fantastic lighting, elegant sets and frequent great close-ups, all in HD.
I paused this video dozens of times to stare at the helmet decorations and the embroidery of the costumes. I know they’re always there, but to be able to study them at detail is a rare experience. You can get a good idea of what I mean by clicking on any of the screen captures that I took on this post.
The credits list two directors, no doubt each taking care of a separate aspect of the play. This looks like a very well choreographed shoot of a brisk live play, rather than a shot-by-shot studio film with no pacing.
The result is electric! Even if you’ve seen many Beijing Operas before, this will feel all shiny and brand new.
Fern kindly authored the following synopsis, cast list and composite cast image. Thank you Fern, you’re an unstoppable hurricane!
This production got the China National Radio, Film and Television Award and the Fei Tian Prize in 2004 as outstanding Chinese opera TV play.
Female Warriors of the Yang Family (Yangmen Nü Jiang) is part of the Yang Family Saga, a well-known Song Dynasty (960-1279) narrative story about an influental patriotic family. After the death of the male members of the family, widows and daughters took the heavy responsibility of defending the country.
She Taijun, the 100 year old great-grandmother of the family, who lost her husband and five out of eight sons on the battlefield, is holding a 50 year birthday celebration at Tianbo Mansion for her grandson, Yang Zongbao. (She Taijun is Yang Yanhui’s mother whom he visits in the opera Silang Visits His Mother).
Suddenly, sorrowful news arrive: Yang Zongbao, who was guarding the borders of the country, has died in the battle while fighting the forces of Western Xia. The news shock the royal court. The Song dynasty imperial court wants to ask for peace with the invading Western Xia to prevent further bloodshed.
She Taijun tries to hide her sorrow and speaks against the proponents of peace talks. She orders the whole family, including her widowed daughter-in-law and grand-daughter-in-law Mu Guiying, to go into battle to the front lines.
Her great-grandson, Yang Wenguang, with his mother Mu Guiying’s consent, also requests to set off to war with the family, but his paternal grandmother, Chai Junzhu, disagrees as Wenguang is the only remaining male heir of the Yang clan.
She Taijun suggests that Yang Wenguang compete with his mother in a martial arts contest, with the outcome deciding the debate.
Yang Qiniang, wife of She Taijun’s seventh son, gives advice to Wenguang and he defeats his mother in a spear fight, and is permitted to follow the troops to the border station.
On the battlefield, the king of Western Xia is defeated in a violent skirmish, forcing him to withdraw to his camp. By occupying a natural stronghold, he plans to lure Yang Wenguang into the valley in order to threaten the Yang dynasty itself, but She Taijun and Mu Guiying see through his intrigue.
Horsegroom boy Zhang Biao informs the Yangs that when Yang Zongbao was still alive, he explored the valley and discovered a plank road built on trestles across the cliff, which would allow going around the natural barrier in order to raid the enemy camp with a surprise attack.
To encourage Yang Wenguang, She Taijun gives him the steed named Bailong that previously belonged to Zongbao. The shortcut road is difficult and dangerous, but Mu Guiying, his son and Yang Qiniang follow Zhang Biao’s directions, climbing up the plank road, and finally with the help of the veteran horse and an old man who is collecting herbs in the mountains, they break into the valley and annihilate the enemy.
Executive producer: Zhu Tong
Chief Supervisor: Zhang Huashan
Supervising producers: Wang Guohui, Zhang Hua, Fang Jun
Chief consultant: Zhong Chengxiang
Planning: Ho Zhiming, Ma Xuejun
Responsible editor: Xiao Hang
Producer: Guan Jian
Art consultant: Cong Zhaoheng
Directors: Xiao Feng, Bao Erfu
Film producer: Gao Jianmin
She Taijun: Yuan Huiqin
Mu Guiying: Shi Yihong
Yang Qiniang: Tian Bing
Yang Wenguang: Xu Ying
Chai Junzhu: Wang Runjing
Jiao Tinggui: Xu Chao
Meng Huaiyuan: Zhang Chaofan
Kou Zhun: Du Zhenjie
Wang Hui: Xu Mengke
Song Tanzi: Guo Xin
Wang Wen: Shu Tong
Zhang Biao: Zhan Lei
Old man collecting herbs: Yan Zhen
Group image of the performers in order as they appear in this cast list:
Some additional profiles for these artists can be found in the following external links:
Some after notes…
It’s interesting to note how a “little boy” role is played here, just as it is played in the “Unicorn Purse” opera: you get a guaranteed, “Wait a minute, I thought that was supposed to be a little girl!” moment.
And another thing, Yuan Huiqin doesn’t look 100 years old!
On my slower computer, I tweaked VLC to synch the sound just a bit better with the video by going to menu Tools > Track Synchronization > Advance of audio over video and raising it to 0.300 second.
Finally, I really want to say that to me “this is the future of Beijing Opera!” It’s breathtaking, really.
The video files are in .MKV format, and can be played using VLC.
Download part one of the video here (1.5 GB)
Download part two of the video here (1.3 GB)
Download part three of the video here (1.2 GB)