Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Night is Movie Night at the CAS

Over the last few weeks, my wife has managed to reserve the large seminar room on the first floor of her building on Friday evenings at 7 PM to show Mao Era Chinese movies. It has been a hit amongst not only her students but students from other labs. Even a couple of the doormen started to show up regularly.


The first two movies in this series were 我们村里的年轻人 (Village Youngsters”), and 冰山上的来客 (Visitors on Icy Mountain”).

I finally made it to the fourth movie, Youth in Battle 战火中的青春

Made in 1959 by Changchun Movie Studios for the 10th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, the main female character Gao Shan was hailed as the contemporary Mulan.

In the opening battle sequence, her father was fell by the Nationalist. Gao Shan managed to escape and showed up at another platoon dressed as a male soldier and was introduced as the newly commissioned deputy platoon leader. No one knew she was a 17 year old girl.

For a while, the soldiers made fun of her height and even the platoon leader told her that he thought that Gao Shan would be better suited as a 文艺兵 (soldier whose main purpose was to entertain the actual combat soldiers). It was only through a few trials and tribulations that Gao Shan finally gained the platoon's respect and trust.

In the main battle, the platoon leader disregarded Gao's advice, took a unnecessary risk and was surrounded by Nationalists. He managed to stay alive until Gao with the rest of the platoon came back for him. But Gao was hurt in this battle and eventually had to go to the hospital where the doctor found out that she was a 17 year old girl.  The platoon leader came to visit and was greeted with this news. He wouldn't believe her until she showed a picture of herself with her deceased father (see picture to the left).

The most famous scene is the closing one, when the entire platoon came through the village where Gao Shan was now stationed. The platoon was on the way to another battle front. The various soldiers marched through trailed only by the platoon leader. Before the platoon leader left, he gave Gao a sword for her to remember their time together in the platoon. Then he ran off. Given that this was filmed in 1959, there was as much love in this exchange as it was allowed by the CCP at that time.

Here’s a link to the closing sequence of Youth in Battle (the actual sequence starts at 1:29 in the clip, after the opening credits of the movie)

After the movie, as I walked back upstairs, I was affectionately taunted by my wife and her students with the main movie theme which was this song sang at the camp fire scene in the following clip:

The song had its origins in the War Against Japan. But in the movie, set in 1947, instead of the Japanese, the main enemies were the Nationalist and the Americans.

My wife quietly asked me if I was offended. I laughed and said “No!”

Miscellany and Afterthoughts: In 2004, a tribute to Chinese movies produced by Cui YongYuan,  The Story of Movie 电影传奇 started its 5 year run on CCTV (2005 being the nominal centennial of Chinese movie industry). Cui, whose love for motion pictures came through in each episode, guided the audience through over 100 classic Chinese movies. In each episode, there were interviews and reminiscences of the director, actors and various others related to the headlined movie, interspersed with actual clip and new re-enactments of major scenes (acted out by Cui himself and various others).

My wife showed the corresponding episode of “The Story of Movie” after each screening to give the students some context.

A couple of weeks ago, there’s a rumor that a new “Story of Movie” produced by Cui is now in the planning stages.

In any case, the next movie on Movie Night will be “Five Golden Flowers” 五朵金花 and if you cannot make it to CAS on Friday night, here’s the youku link to the movie.

And, finally, a Happy Holidays to Everyone!

Corrigendum (12/26/10). In the Dec. 24th posting, I incorrectly wrote squad when I should have written platoon. Thanks to JM for the correction.

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