On October 1st 1949, the People's Republic of China came into existence. In the west, time is measured by centuries, in China by spans of 60 years so this is a really big anniversary. The Communists took over after decades of war and chaos, thousands of years of suffering. So what, people may think in the west? That's why I've posted this film, The White haired Girl (Pak mo lui). It's easy to follow even if you don't know Mandarin. There is a good translation of the full script here which also explains the cultural images. The film is really quite good, so please enjoy. To understand modern China, watch this film. You can also learn a lot about traditional China too. Nowadays it's fashionable to knock Communism, but this film is a reminder of why it was probably necessary to cleanse the country of feudal evils.
It's about a peasant who gets into debt and has to sell his daughter to a landlord in a rich household where she's raped and gets pregnant. When she hears she's about to be sold as a slave she escapes into the mountains where she lives a feral existence, living in a cave like an animal, stealing food from a remote temple. She suffers so much that her hair turns white and people think she's a ghost. Eventually the nice boy she knew long ago returns home as head of a People's Liberation Army platoon and the bad landlord gets it. The Communists investigate the tale of the white haired ghost who haunts the temple, and they find it's the little peasant girl, who has survived against all odds.
Corny, you might think but the film is actually a well-made human drama about the lives of peasants in North China (where it snows and they wear fur hats) Of course it's just a film but it was made at a time when people needed to feel hopeful about things: it's made with heartfelt conviction.
This is the original, not the ballet, opera, or remakes that came out during the Cultural Revolution.Then the image of the White haired Girl became a symbol of Red Guard extremism The later films were lousy, but you couldn't buck the mob. But this is the original, which shows the girl and her fellow peasants as decent, ordinary people. It's very touching in its innocence and hope and fantastic scenery shots, too. You can see why millions of people watched it after those years of war and Revolution, when they needed something to believe in. Despite the difficulties of the last 60 years, China needed the People's Republic. It's a day to respect.
More on Tristan und Isolde later ! I am going again Friday. Here in the meantime a snippet from Anne Midgette in the Washington Post "Opera, sung in a foreign language with subtitles and shown in movie theaters, has come to resemble a foreign film in the minds of some American audiences: People assume that it needs to be exactly the same each time you see it, without realizing that in live theater, this isn't at all the point of the exercise"