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Song at Midnight (1935)

Ye ban ge sheng (original title)
Not Rated | | Drama, Horror, Romance | 1937 (China)
China's first horror film, this is loosely based on The Phantom of the Opera. A disfigured musical genius roams a traditional Chinese opera house, punishing those who offend him.

Director:

Weibang Ma-Xu

Writers:

Gaston Leroux (play), Weibang Ma-Xu
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Cast

Credited cast:
Menghe Gu Menghe Gu
Ping Hu Ping Hu
Shan Jin Shan Jin
Chau-Shui Yee Chau-Shui Yee
Wenzhu Zhou Wenzhu Zhou
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Storyline

China's first horror film, this is loosely based on The Phantom of the Opera. A disfigured musical genius roams a traditional Chinese opera house, punishing those who offend him.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Horror | Romance

Certificate:

Not Rated
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Details

Country:

China

Language:

Mandarin

Release Date:

1937 (China) See more »

Also Known As:

Yeban geshang See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

Xinhua See more »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Mono

Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See full technical specs »
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider. See more »

Quotes

Sun: The fish can also make a wave.
See more »

Connections

Version of Phantom of the Paradise (1974) See more »

Soundtracks

Night on Bald Mountain
Written by Modest Mussorgsky
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User Reviews

 
Cyrano de Bergerac of the Opera
27 November 2018 | by CineanalystSee all my reviews

The few reviews on IMDb and elsewhere for this early Chinese film "Song at Midnight" are overly generous methinks. It's true there's some haunting black-and-white imagery, but much of the style and some of the story elements are highly derivative of Universal's classic monster movies, particularly the 1925 "The Phantom of the Opera." The plot is meandering, with scenes that last far too long and with too many forlorn looks. The acting is atrocious, wavering between stilted artificiality, with actors seemingly unsure of what to even do with their hands and so just hold them up awkwardly or where to look and so gaze off at nothing, and outbursts of ridiculous histrionics whenever the story calls for displays of emotion. As most mention, this is a loose reworking of Gaston Leroux's novel "The Phantom of the Opera," but more so inspired by the 1925 Lon Chaney adaptation, as well as strangely anticipating some aspects of the inferior Universal remake in 1943. There's also a clumsy political message thrown in. Seemingly less remarked upon, if at all, is how elements from another French classic, "Cyrano de Bergerac," are melded into an already confused and unfocused narrative.

The similarities to the 1925 film are most apparent at the beginning and end: first, with the shadow shots of the Phantom with superimposed titles, just as in the prior version, except he's singing this time, and, later, with the mob chase. Here, the mob is inexplicable other than being derivative of the 1925 film, wherein the story actually built up to it. Similar to the later 1943 version, however, this Phantom is a musician (a singer instead of a violinist) who becomes disfigured by acid thrown in his face, unlike in the book. In this case, the incident initially leaves the Phantom, named Song Dangping here, with his face and hands wrapped in bandages, which ironically recalls the appearance of the Invisible Man in the 1933 film as played by Claude Rains, who would also go on to star in the 1943 "Phantom of the Opera." Like the 1943 film and most of the adaptations thereafter--worst of all the 2004 adaptation of the Andrew Lloyd Webber integrated musical--this one is also bogged down by musical numbers that interrupt the main horror plot. (The one musical version I'd recommend is the loose reworking "Phantom of the Paradise" (1974).)

Otherwise, "Song at Midnight" is similar to other later romantic retellings of Leroux's story, which downplay or, as here, entirely erase the criminal misdeeds of the Phantom. Instead, a random villain is invented--not unlike the 1962 Hammer adaptation, where the villain was also a sexual deviant. Here, as we learn in an extended flashback, Dangping was a political revolutionary as well as a famous singer. Anyways, after the acid attack leaves him as perhaps the most grotesque Phantom I've seen on the screen, to give credit where it's due, Dangping enlists another singer as a surrogate for romancing his former lover, who misbelieves that Dangping is dead. Essentially, this is what Cyrano de Bergerac did, too, to hide his big nose. The Phantom even teaches the younger singer to sing to her.

Little of what make Leroux's story interesting is here. There's no Christine faced with the dilemma between her art, as represented by the Phantom, and a normal life, as embodied by Raoul. The only love triangle in the film at all is tacked on at the end and is more a threat of rape than an actual choice for the woman. "Faust," the original play-within-the-play, which reflected this outer Faustian bargain put to Christine is gone; here, exchanged for "Yellow River Love," a clunky political romance like the outer narrative and Dangping's "Red Blooded," which replaces the Phantom's opera "Don Juan Triumphant" from the book, I suppose. At least, the plays within still relate to the main outer play, though, unlike in the 1943 and other adaptations, even if it is for the clumsy political metaphor of light and darkness. Otherwise, the theatre here is considerably smaller than the Palais Garnier of Paris and, in general, architecture figures less prominently in this adaptation than in others or the book.

What the film does have are rooms full of cobwebs and stormy nights, for the sort of atmosphere one might expect from an old-dark-house horror mystery. There's even an old man with a limp who just seems to be in the film for the same reason. Oddly, in one sequence, the theatre is so cold that you can see the actors' breath. There's also some nice use of fog, moving camera shots and canted angles, but much of this style seems derivative of Hollywood horror output, and some of the canted angles, in particular, are employed for shots that don't seem to call for them. One of the more avante-garde camera tricks to affect the appearance of a room spinning also does no favors to the histrionics of the actress when she learns of the supposed death of Dangping--and just makes the scene rather laughable. Other shots and scenes are just too long; a half hour should've easily been cut from the film. The repetitive shots of the old man leading the theatrical troupe down a corridor, for instance, are especially needless. One can overlook the creaky soundtrack by contrast.

(Note: The Phantom's disfigurement is revealed to him and the spectator through a mirror.)


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