Enjoyable Chinese contribution to thirties monster movies.
It would be nice to see Weibang Ma-Xu's other films. He was a busy director logging up credits till the sixties. This is his film which got most attention, though Chinese intellectuals were apparently dismissive of it. Now that the circulation of mainland DVDs has made the pre-WW2 Shanghai films accessible, SONG AT MIDNIGHT turns up in a battered but watchable copy and is unusually intriguing.
Even without sub-titles, the story can be followed. Viewers are helped by familiarity with the "Phantom of the Opera" origins and Ronny Yu's accomplished re-make which drew on another half century of technique and a bigger budget. You can also see the influence of the Lugosi Dracula here but this is a much better film.
The plot has a traveling operetta company arrive at the run down provincial theatre. Their juvenile is having problems but he is coached to triumph by a mysterious hooded figure, who a flash back reveals is a star disfigured by the local power cartel, when he romanced the daughter of an influential family. The young performer sings under the window of the phantom's old love now deranged, who takes him for her former lover. When his old nemesis menaces the ingénue of the company, the Phantom attacks him and is burned in a tower building by an angry mob. This is not a film that coasts on subtlety.
The film making, while not polished, gets by and is full of imaginative touches and striking images. The actor playing the phantom was thought of as one of the country's best at the time and it is interesting to see his work here.
This is certainly more entertaining than much of the more purposeful work that makes it into critical histories. Anyone with a serious interest in film should seek it out.
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