Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cherie Chung Week: Peking Opera Blues (1986)

I haven't watched Peking Opera Blues (1986) in about 7 years. And that means I haven't watched it since my current Cherie Chung jones kicked into high gear.

I've seen the film probably 4 or 5 times and, for what it's worth, it was my official gateway into Hong Kong cinema.

It goes like this:

At some point in the early 1990s, an American cable channel ran the unctuous Jonathan Ross' UK TV series, "The Incredibly Strange Film Show", one episode of which featured Tsui Hark.

Around that time, a college classmate -- we met in the one film class I took in the English department -- showed me bits and pieces of A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and some other Hong Kong cinema classics -- on VCD, no less!

And I recall that that guy in 1992 mentioned Peking Opera Blues (1986).

Flash-forward to Christmas of 2000. I had been watching a lot of Gong Li flicks and then I got my first DVD player that Christmas. A few days later I saw Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) in the theater and realized that I should probably go back and watch all the HK cinema classics that influenced the makers of that film; I wasn't an expert on HK cinema but I knew enough to know that that wuxia stuff wasn't the invention of Ang Lee.

Okay, that Monday after Christmas, the first two DVDs I rented at Video Vault (R.I.P.) in Alexandria, Virginia were A Chinese Ghost Story (1987) and Peking Opera Blues (1986).

And the rest is history.

I'm not qualified to write about this film in a serious manner. Besides, DOZENS of others have already done that so if you want to read a real review of Peking Opera Blues (1986), check out the reviews here.

If, however, you want to read a review of this flick as a Cherie Chung film, read on.

Peking Opera Blues (1986) opens with Cherie as a traveling musician entertaining a general. The guy's palace gets raided and Cherie and her fellow performers split up but not before Cherie snags a bunch of jewels and hauls herself out of the confusion.

I don't know why Cherie didn't make more of an impression on me when I first saw this film; maybe I was on too much of a Brigitte Lin kick at the time?

And I'm sure that the first time I watched this I was also unaware of Shaw Brothers legends Wu Ma and Ku Feng who both have prominent roles in this picture.

In this film, Cherie Chung brings a good deal of the humor to the proceedings. Of the three leading actresses, Sally Yeh gets a viewer's sympathy, and Brigitte Lin our respect and admiration. So Cherie, as the other member of that main trio of women, gets to be the cute and funny one.

And, without giving away anything for those of you who have still not seen this masterpiece, Cherie's character is integral to the plot in a few key comedic scenes.

But still, even more than 10 years after I first watched this film, I was not that impressed by Cherie Chung's performance. It's not the actress' fault; like I said, she's got the thankless job here.

I mean, with Brigitte Lin as the star, how could a viewer be too impressed with Cherie?

Still, given the limited range of material provided to her character, she does a pretty good job of being cute and silly without being a total ditz.

Peking Opera Blues (1986) is a hard film to write about, frankly; every time I watch it, I feel like I'm still missing some subtext or historical bits.

And I clearly am, but that's okay because if you watch Peking Opera Blues just for the drama, action, or comedy -- or just for Brigitte Lin -- it's still a rousing good time and a clear classic of world cinema.

As for Cherie? Yes, she's cute but don't expect a performance from her here as nuanced as the ones in An Autumn's Tale (1987) or Hong Kong Hong Kong (1983).