Release Date: March 29th, 2006 (Film Forum) by Shadow Distribution.
Directed by Yan Ting Yuen.
In Mandarin with subtitles.
BASIC PREMISE: A documentary about Yang Ban Xi, popular propaganda operas during China’s Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: What make performances of Yang Ban Xi so fascinating are not just the lively songs and dancing, but the political purpose and interesting stories behind them. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Chairman Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qin prohibited regular operas in favor of 13 different pro-communist operas, 8 of which were popular. These weren’t easy times to live in and, for that matter, to work as actors/dancers in. However, Yang Ban Xi , instead focuses on some of the performers of Yang Ban Xi. There’s Tong Xiangling, Zhang Nanyun, and Xue Qinghua who recall the energy and delight that they experience during their brief period of fame. Tong Xiangling, who performed in “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy” humorously claims that he was once inside a store and a huge crowd recognized him, which forced him to run out of the store right into the studio—as if he might have stolen something from the store. His wife, Zhang Nanyun recalls being unjustifiably banned from Yang Ban Xi by Jiang Qin. Between all of these interviews, there are amazing clips from some of the operas with wonderful choreography and costumes along with vivid colors. Since these operas were pro-communist, any farmers were depicted in bright colors while wealthy landlords were in darker colors. In a surprisingly innovative scene at the end of Yang Ban Xi , writer/director Yan Ting Yuen recreates the opera “The Red Women’s Detachment” with a delightfully modern and unexpectedly humorous touch.
SPIRITUAL VALUE: Yang Ban Xi doesn’t get too analytical about China’s Cultural Revolution, which is fortunate because it was generally quite depressing. The Yang Ban Xi operas symbolize a more constructive, light-hearted method of channeling angry/rebellious feelings through art and through lyrics.
INSULT TO YOUR INTELLIGENCE: None.
NUMBER OF TIMES I CHECKED MY WATCH: 0
IN A NUTSHELL: Fascinating, lively and thoroughly engaging!
RECOMMENDED WAY TO WATCH: Movie Theater (1st Run)
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