The movie is set in chaotic 1920's China, when warlords fought each other for power while Sun Yat-Sen's underground movement tried to establish a democratic republic. The movie tells the ... See full summary »
The movie is set in chaotic 1920's China, when warlords fought each other for power while Sun Yat-Sen's underground movement tried to establish a democratic republic. The movie tells the story of three young women and two young men who are thrown together. One young woman grabs a box of jewels during the looting when one warlord takes Peking. A deserting soldier joins her, but the jewels end up at the Peking Opera. Here we meet the daughter of the head of the troupe, who dreams of being an actress. But even female roles are played by men in the opera. Soon, the daughter of the currently ruling warlord and a male agent of the democratic underground are involved. Written by
Opinion seems pretty evenly divided on PEKING OPERA BLUES. One camp regards it as possibly the best film to come out of Hong Kong in the last twenty years, while the other camp thinks it's "stoopid".
Oddly, I come down somewhere between the two.
The first thing to understand is that POB is NOT a kung fu film. Yes, it has fighting in it. It has gunplay and it even has torture. But it is not a kung fu film. Mostly, it's a comedy adventure and those of us familiar with Hong Kong cinema will be well-aware that Hong Kong humour is, at best, an acquired taste, especially for us gwai-loh.
The next thing to understand is that its importance lies in the way it completely subverts the traditional gender roles in Chinese society. Some of this lies on the surface - in the way that Cherie Chung's character tries to get some stage acting in but is chastised by her father for it (at this time in China, all female roles on stage were played by men). Some of this lies in the subtext - in the way that Brigitte Lin's character is completely in charge of both her female and her male companions. And some of it lies in between - in the way that Lin dresses as a man (a long and honorable tradition in Chinese storytelling), but a bit odd here as she's not actually *disguised* as a man.
Add to this that all three female leads are headstrong women who know what they want (Brigitte Lin is just stronger, even, than the other two) and that the men are followers (Mark Cheng follows orders, then Brigitte, and Kwok Keung Cheung just follows Mark) and you can begin to see the impact this must have had when it came out in 1986 - years before we had Xena Warrior Princess or Veronica Mars.
Overall, I think POB is a good movie, though probably not a great one. When I watch it (I have the dodgy DeltaMac DVD release with the eccentric subtitling - "There's a girl. Knock her up!") I just can't help feeling that this should have been much better than it was.
Maybe if Tsui Hark were to do a remake today, POB would be the movie it always deserved to be ...
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