THE biopic Forever Enthralled (Chinese title: Mei Lanfang) is an effort to capturethe great master during three periods of his life.
First, as he defeats a elder stage rival and becomes a favoriteof the day; then, as he conducts a romance with a female star who plays male roles (Zhang Ziyi); and last, when he defies Japanese invaders and refuses to perform.
In subject matter, this is filmmaker Chen Kaige’s follow-up to Farewell, My Concubine, which is artistically the better film. Some say the 1993 film is a veiled biographyof Mei Lanfang because it featured one of his signature roles.
In Forever Enthralled, Chen has not kept strictly to the facts of Mei’s life. Several of the supporting characters in the film are composites. And the matter of Mei’s three wives, whom he was married to at the same time for a while, receives less emphasis. Wife No 1 is not in the film at all and Wife No 3 is downgraded to a mere affair.
Mei does not come across as sharp and three-dimensional in this elaborateperiod drama. His character does not change or show moral anguish.
In the film, Mei Lanfang does not hesitate much before throwing down the gauntlet to the older master. He does not suffer from qualms of guilt when he flirts with the Zhang Ziyi character while his wife watches from a balcony. He does not hesitate when choosing to give up the stage in Japanese-occupied Shanghai.
Opera singers in drag were the norm when women were not allowed to go on stage. It was similar to the theater of Shakespeare’s day, when teenage boys took on female roles.
But male actors and singers who dressed as women did so for reasons other than of necessity. Perhaps they were motivated by homosexual or transvestite desire when they took on female roles.
Arguably, with gender equality, women have a chance to play these roles with more natural grace. But there is a certain beauty about a man being more feminine on stage than a woman.
A beautiful woman playing a beautiful woman is basically like Whitney Houston starring in the movie The Bodyguard. But with a man, it’s like a magic show. You know it’s not real, but you’re fooled into believing in it nonetheless.
The allure of nandan lies in the sexual ambiguity. When these men, dressed and made-up as women, soar into the falsetto range, the clear line between male and female is suspended. We enjoy these singers of the Chinese tradition for the same reason we appreciate Michael Jackson or Vitas.
Art can imitate nature; it can also contradict nature. Many artists combine the natural and the unnatural. Mei Lanfang’s artistry elevated the old practice of men taking female roles to a new height.
Different roles in Peking opera
IN Forever Enthralled, Leon Lai plays Mei Lanfang, who played Dan in operas.
The Dan (旦) refers to any female role in Peking opera. Dan roles were originally divided into five subtypes. Old women were played by laodan, martial women were wudan, young female warriors were daomadan, virtuous and elite women were qingyi, and vivacious and unmarried women were huadan.
Zhang Ziyi played Meng Xiaodong, who, as Mei’s lover, plays Sheng in operas.
The Sheng (生) is the main male role in Beijing opera. This role has numerous subtypes. The laosheng is a dignified older role. Young male characters are known as xiaosheng, while the wusheng is a martial character for roles involving combat.
Expressions in drag
Leslie Cheung looked amazing in drag in Farewell, My Concubine!
throw down the gauntlet
He was quick to take up the gauntlet thrown down by the opposition. 【已有很多网友发表了看法，点击参与讨论】【对英语不懂，点击提问】【英语论坛】【返回首页】