OK, I'll admit it. I love Chinese cinema but Kunqu opera jangles
all my insides and makes me wish I was dead. Seriously. I'm not
trying to attack the merit of it, it is obviously a very old,
very difficult art form. I'm just saying that either you like
it or you don't. I don't much like slide guitar either - it has
the same irritating effect on my nervous system.
You have to love Kunqu-opera to love Peony Pavilion.
If you don't, then sitting through this film could be your cinematic
equivalent of a root canal. Unless of course you can close your
ears and simply admire the film for its superior cinematography
which is at all times breathtaking and flawless. The best Asian
directors all seem to have an eye for the frail beauty of the
world and have an exquisite touch for visual metaphor.
Acclaimed director Yonfan premiered this film to outstanding
reviews at the opening of the Hong Kong Film Festival. Since then
it has travelled around the world, amassing critical acclaim everywhere.
The feedback votes after this film was screened at the Sydney
gay and lesbian festival were interesting - viewers either praised
it enthusiastically or panned it horribly. I find it difficult
to do either.
Like that other gorgeous film Farewell my Concubine,
this film deals with the turbulent relationship between two women.
In this film, their connection begins through their mutual connections
with a Noble House. One can't help but admire the beauty and grace
of these women as they sing their passions. It is their outlet,
a way of pouring out their soul into the universe. After watching
them at the height of success exhibiting such passion it makes
their fall from grace and subsequent decline that much more wrenching.
Unfortunately, once the two women left the Noble House I think
I must have missed something when the story took a detour to the
left. I was left flailing, wondering about the mix of flashback
and modern day, wondering what it is about this woman that fuels
such passion in the people around her. Personally, I couldn't
see it, but other women I went to the cinema with were mesmerised
by her. Each to their own I guess. But it is upon the charisma
of the lead characters that this film succeeds or fails.
I find it difficult to even write a plot synopsis for fear that
I've drastically misunderstood something. It goes something like
this: a woman, the fifth wife of the head of a Noble House, lives
with her daughter in relative opulence. When life in the Noble
House doesn't turn out to be as fulfilling as she planned, she
looks for other amusements. She finds opium, and the love of a
Despite social pressures to the contrary the two women leave
and begin to live together, but the relationship is threatened
when one of the women falls in love and begins a relationship
with a man. A rather pathetic and tragic conclusion follows, with
only one of the women emerging from the film alive.
Peony Pavilion is nothing if not aesthetically
pleasing. The sets are scrumptious, the leads all gorgeous, the
colours bright and the culture fascinating. Opera fans will be
swept away, but if you're like me and have no taste for it, guaranteed
you'll just leave the cinema feeling a bit lost at sea.
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