Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender

By Sheldon Hsiao-Peng Lu | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Two Stage Sisters The Blossoming of a Revolutionary Aesthetic

Gina Marchetti

On the eve of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in 1964, Xie Jin brought to the screen a story about the changing lives of women in twentieth-century China set against the backdrop of the Shaoxing opera world. Although rooted in the intimate story of two actresses and the vicissitudes of their relationship, Xie gave the film, Two Stage Sisters ( Wutai jiemei), an epic scope by showing these women's lives buffeted by tremendous social and political upheavals.1 The film covers the years from 1935 to 1950, the expanses of the Zhejiang countryside as well as Shanghai under Japanese, Guomindang, and Communist rule.

Chunhua (Xie Fang), a young widow about to be sold by her in-laws, escapes and becomes an apprentice in a traveling Shaoxing folk opera troupe. Yuehong (Cao Yindi), who plays the male roles in the all-female opera company, befriends Chunhua. After the death of Yuehong's father, Chunhua and Yuehong find themselves sold to a Shanghai opera theater to replace the fading star, Shang Shuihua (Shangguan Yunzhu). Eventually, Yuehong falls in love with their manipulative stage manager, Tang (Li Wei), and the sisters quarrel and separate.

Inspired by the radical woman journalist, Jiang Bo (Gao Yuansheng), Chunhua continues her career, giving a political flavor to her performances. After an attempt to blind and ruin Chunhua by using Yuehong's testimony to trick her in court, Tang goes off to Taiwan to escape the revolution. Although unable to harm her stage sister in court, Yuehong has been publicly humiliated. Abandoned by Tang, she disappears into the countryside. After Shanghai's liberation by the Communists, however, Chunhua manages to track down Yuehong, and the two reconcile.

Two Stage Sisters uses the theatrical world of Shaoxing as a metaphor for political and social change. The film also represents a search for a Chinese cinema aesthetic based on these traditions as well as on Hollywood and socialist realist forms. This analysis will explore the intermingling of these aesthetic currents and the ways in which art and politics intertwine in Two Stage Sisters. By placing the film within the context of the

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