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M (1986)
Peking Opera Blues

Reviewed by: MrBooth
Date: 02/25/2007
Summary: 8/10 like it a lot, but not as much as some do

PEKING OPERA BLUES was amongs the first half-dozen Hong Kong films I saw, and to be honest I was only luke warm to it. I've seen it a few times since, on a succession of DVD releases of dubious quality, and always liked it but never quite loved it. The new Joy Sales DVD is undoubtedly the best presentation the film has had in years, even going to the trouble of having somebody that understands English look over the subtitles, but doesn't fundamentally change my view. Good film, but not one of my favourites.

The film tells a story tells of three women whose paths momentarily cross at a turbulent time in Chinese history. It seems fairly clear that the three women are meant to represent "The Three Chinas" - Cherie Chung's brash, materialistic character is obviously Hong Kong, Brigitte Lin's idealistic, revolutionary character is obviously the Communist mainland... so Sally Yeh's filial, underappreciated character is presumably Taiwan (not quite sure how that works as a metaphor). I'm not entirely sure what Tsui Hark wanted to say about Chinese politics through the film, particularly the closing shot - perhaps "We share a common history (represented by the Peking Opera), we should help each other out, but we're all different and shouldn't get too close".

Much has been made of the film's genre-mixing, and it's ability/tendency to shift tone at the drop of a hat. It's a good example of the "everything but the kitchen sink" approach to cinema, of which Tsui Hark was one of the pioneers and masters. It's often held up as an example of the strong female characters that are another hallmark of HK cinema, though that's a tradition that goes back much further than Tsui Hark's career.

The film is fast-paced and visually slick, with some good action choregraphy by Ching Siu-Tung. The comedy isn't always successful but sometimes is, and the acting from Brigitte Lin and Sally Yeh is great (yeah, I know I left Cherie off that list!). Ku Feng, Wu Ma and Kenneth Tsang also turn in good performances, and Paul Chun's is especially interesting. One criticism I do have of the film is with the voice casting... like all HK films of the era, the dialogue was dubbed in afterwards, and it was not even that common for actors to dub themselves. I certainly don't think anybody dubs themselves in Peking Opera Blues, and the voice actors that were used seem to have been poorly selected, not matching the appearance or personality of the characters they dub. This is quite common in Tsui Hark films, now that I think about it.

The net result is that PEKING OPERA BLUES is clearly a well-made film with its own unique personality... so why can't I elevate it to the 'classic' status that would earn it a 9 or a 10? I'm not entirely sure myself - it just lacks that 'je ne sais quoi' that makes me love certain films, rather than just like them a lot. I don't think it's a reaction to over-hype, because I felt the same way when I'd never heard of it before. I won't contest anybody's right to love it as much as I love THE MISSION though, if it's more their thing.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: cal42
Date: 02/16/2007

The story of how three women end up at the Chun Wo Ban opera theatre is slightly convoluted (but never totally confusing). When the revolution kicks in, opportunist musician Sheung Hung (Cherie Chung) attempts to make off with a box of stolen jewellery, which inevitably ends up in the wrong hands. She follows the trail to the opera house and meets up with Pak Nao (Sally Yeh) and Cho Wan (a very androgynous Brigitte Lin). The former is a would-be actor forever belittled by her father (Ng Ma), while the latter is the daughter of the seemingly corrupt General Cho. Cho Wan, however, is a revolutionary seeking democracy for the people. The story concerns the struggle of these valiant young women against an oppressive regime. For once, the women reign supreme and the men are given supporting roles. In a stroke of genius though, this fact is never played up to the hilt like it would be in a lesser production. The result is a refreshingly “natural” and unforced experience, largely without gender politics getting involved.

PEKING OPERA BLUES’s “blues” are few and far between, and always tempered with some laugh-out-loud comedy. It hasn’t got an awful lot of Peking Opera either. But what it HAS got is a trio of good central characters and an abundance of great scenes. Add to this an epic amount of fun, and you have one of the most enjoyable experiences for the fan of Hong Kong cinema. It IS a bit of a grower, I’ll admit, but believe me, re-watching this film brings great rewards – such as spotting Cherie Chung surreptitiously wiping the dead general Tun’s blood on Brigitte Lin’s shirt in one scene.

Director Tsui Hark divides me totally – I either love his films or hate them. For example, for every ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINA (superb), there’s been a NEW DRAGON GATE INN (which I find totally unwatchable – more so than even THE MASTER). This film seems the most “western” in some ways – and for once I don’t mean that as a negative. The excellent plotting and general sensibility of the film seems to make it a lot more accessible to me than a lot of non-action Hong Kong films of the day (which is ironic given the subject matter – you can’t get more Chinese than Peking Opera!). It helps to have a great cast, of course, but I’m not entirely sure it’s as simple as that – while Brigitte Lin had a couple of notable performances in her time, off the top of my head I really can’t remember Sally Yeh and Cherie Chung doing THAT much else worth mentioning. So if that’s down to the directing talent of Tsui, then I’ll admit it, the guy’s a genius.

Although there are action scenes in this movie, it’s best to think of it as a comedy drama. This certainly isn’t Jackie Chan or Jet Li territory here. But the comedy is less broad than you might expect, and definitely hits more than it misses. And as a fan of Chinese rooftop scenes, the climax leaves little to be desired.

At the time of writing, this film has never had a legitimate UK release, which is annoying to say the least. I suppose the one of the main reasons PEKING OPERA BLUES has largely been ignored in the west is due to the English title – “Peking Opera Blues” probably conjures up images of a staid melodrama full of painted faces to a lot of westerners. And there’s just no way you could market it as a “Martial Arts Epic”, which is currently the only way to market a Hong Kong film these days. So I’m still forced to watch my old VHS tape that was taped off British TV about 10 years ago. Now THAT gives me the blues!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: dandan
Date: 03/08/2006
Summary: well, i enjoyed it...

it's pretty good, but i'm not quite sure that it's the classic i'd been told to expect...

it does, however, carry many hallmarks of a classic; tsui hark, ching sui tung, bridget lin, peking opera, kung fu, gunplay, political guerillas, bizarrely
moustached generals, farcical comedy and so on...

any how, it's very enjoyable and well worth the pitance that it cost me.

Reviewed by: mrblue
Date: 10/26/2005

This is one of the most-loved and critically acclaimed Hong Kong films of all time. Along with John Woo's A Better Tomorrow (which premiered around the same time), it gave a huge boost to the HK film industry that spawned a period of activity not seen before or since, lasting until the mid-1990's when Hollywood films finally began to gain a strong foothold. What makes Peking Opera Blues so special? Like many great films, it's hard to pinpoint one particular aspect. I think, though, it is the way that Peking Opera Blues is at one both universal, yet so uniquely Hong Kong-ish (is that a word?) in nature that holds the key to its lasting appeal.

The film's universality comes from its' basic structure. Peking Opera Blues' plot itself is fairly simple; with the three leads banding together to help each other out during the tumultuous times following the 1913 Chinese revolution. The movie plays out a bit like a 1930's Hollywood serial, with the characters having to face several "cliffhangers" and then think of inventive ways to get themselves out of the situation at hand. Even though there are numerous references to particular aspects of Chinese society and history, the movie doesn't depend on them so much as to lose the non-native viewer.

Peking Opera Blues' Hong Kong film techniques are quite apparent as well. For instance, there are several large (and often violent) action sequences that most Hollywood directors wouldn't even think of. There are numerous genres mixed into the film as well -- it literally runs the gamut from slapstick comedy to a bloody torture sequence. Sometimes this (which seems to be a uniquely Hong Kong invention, or at least they have perfected it) tends to go a bit overboard, but in the hands of an expert director like Tsui Hark, the changes in emphasis are refreshing, not jarring. I can say that there is not a slow moment in the entire film, because it touches on so many genres without letting any of them overpower each other.

Mostly, though, the Hong Kong film feeling comes through the three leads. Western films often wouldn't allow a film starring three women to be anything other than a tear-jerker or exploitative action flick. Certainly, the three female leads acknowledge their femininity -- most pointedly thorough a touching scene when they shed their respective outfits (thus their respective professions and place in society) and bond together just as women. But at the same time, they're not whiny, trampy, needy, greedy or any of the other female stereotypes which tend to make their marks in film. People tend to think of Asian countries as having a "lower" view of women, but films like this show how much farther we (as Westerners) have to go with our own ideas of how strong women should be portrayed in movies (Erin Brockovich, anyone?). As I have stated in other reviews, I'm no book-waving/tree-hugging feminist and do enjoy the good exploitation movie every now and then, but a film like Peking Opera Blues shows how refreshing an honest portrayal of women can be.

Despite horrible subtitlng and sub-par picture quality found in many video versions, Peking Opera Blues is a film that's well worth seeking out. It's quite honestly one of the few true cinematic masterpieces ever produced and it only gets better with age, especially compared with most of the dreck coming out on both sides of the ocean these days.

[review from www.hkfilm.net]

Reviewed by: Gaijin84
Date: 07/12/2005
Summary: Tsui Hark classic

Set in 1913, Peking Opera Blues centers around three women, each with different motivations in their struggle to keep the newly founded Republic of China safe from corrupt officals and foreigners bent on gaining as much power in the new government as possible. Brigitte Lin plays Tsao Wan, the daughter of a newly instated general who, much to her dismay, has signed an agreement with a group of foreigners. Being a dedicated revolutionary, she is forced to betray her father and steal the document. Sally Yeh plays a daughter of the head of a local opera company who's dream it is to act in the plays, but because she is a woman, is forbidden to do so. Last in the trio is Cherie Cheung who plays Sheung Hung, a servent of the former general who is desperatley trying to find a box of jewels that could set her up for life. Through a series of twists and turns, the three become an inseperable team whose ultimate goal is to expose the foreign treaty and save their Republic from falling into enemy hands.

Peking Opera Blues is a very complicated movie, but entertaining none-the-less. A bevy of characters will have you pausing trying to figure out where they came from and how they fit in, but by the end, everything seems to fall in place. The movie is very bright and well filmed (as is to be expected from Tsui Hark), and both the comedic and martial arts sequences are very quick and smooth. Elaborate sets add to the action, especially the final scene where chases, gunfights and martial arts battles take place along snowy rooftops. Although the movie is somewhat confusing, the strong acting, very funny comedic scenes and excellent (although few and far between) fight sequences make it a solid film.

Reviewer Score: 7

Reviewed by: ButterflyMurders
Date: 06/09/2002
Summary: Peking Opera Happiness

I also loved this film. I just love how it focused on so many different characters and how they had such distinct personalities. They were realistic, they were multi-faceted and they were believable. Tsui Hark is an amazing director and this is probably one of his best films.

There were fantastic performances everywhere. Special mention must go to Paul Chun as Fa Gum-Sau, the main opera attraction. He infused his character with strength, dignity and humanity. I loved how he said, "NO!" to the officer.

How many ideas and genres got thrown into the pot? Female emacipation, Western influence in China, corruption, Peking Opera, comedy/action/drama...whew. And admirably it never weighs the film down. It was also great to see prominent, strong female characters.

This film had some great comic moments. The entire opera performance scene where Sally Yeh is finally able to take the stage was comic gold. Amusingly, nothing goes right for anyone.

I'll finish off with a quote:

"Peking roast duck."
"Uh...really really yummy?"

And did I tell you how much I loved this film? 10/10

Reviewed by: Buckeyez
Date: 05/04/2002
Summary: Not for me

You usually know if you like a movie within the first few min. of the movie. For me, Peking Opera Blues didn't do it for me. Having sat through the entire thing wondering that it could have been done better.

Reviewed by: ksbutterbox
Date: 03/23/2002
Summary: Just watched it again !

This is a classic like everyone says it is. I noticed while watching this for at least the 6th time how fast paced this movie really is. If you blink you'll miss a great sub or some of the fine detail in the sets themselves. Tsui Hark's jumpy camera work is more subdued here than some of his later works (The Blade,Time& Tide) which are both good but a little hard on the peepers at times. This movie is so fun to watch over and over again. Glad it's always in my collection to constantly enjoy and study outstanding film making.

Reviewed by: 5elementninja
Date: 01/12/2002
Summary: Very nice

This drama/action/comedy revolves around the story of 3 women. One is the General of Peking's daughter (Brigitte Lin) who is secretly a cohort in a revolt against her father. Another is a musician (Charlie Cheung) whose number one priority is to get rich, and finally the last is a daughter of an Opera House owner in Peking (Sally Yeh). All three become entangled in the plot to retrieve a secret document from the general and bring it to congress. What ensues from this is probably the best mixture of comedy, action and romance ever committed to film in HK history.


Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 09/17/2001
Summary: A Brilliant Masterpiece

One of the most enjoyable and flawless movies I have ever seen (the story does have its flaws, however. Brigitte Lin seems to be able to just get up and leave whenever a crisis occurs and not be suspected at all by his father). Cherie Cheung, Brigitte Lin and Sally Yeh all shine through their outstanding performances, as does the rest of the cast. Adaquet & appropriate humor (which adds even more class to the film), perfect cast, good action, excellent music, realistic plot & a memorable story. In fact, the only complaint (or the only scene I did not get) I have is the scene where Brigitte and Cherie are arguing over the money and document. The whole movie has been presenting the ladies as soul sisters, and I was shocked to see that Cherie would try to destroy the document because she thought 10 "gold bars" (worth $10 million??) wasn't enough??? Other than that, this movie is a real good example of what are capable of Chin Siu Tung, Tsui Hark, and Brigitte Lin.

Reviewed by: Trigger
Date: 05/30/2001
Summary: Must own title

This is one of the best films I've ever seen. Some would be turned off by the title or the subject matter, but this film has everything. It has drama, comedy, action and Peking Opera. I laughed and I cried and I went "Wow!" a few times. This film has some of the best acting I've seen coming from these stars. This film should be owned by everyone who is into HK cinema. If you don't have this in your DVD/VHS library and you have over 10 HK titles, then you must make it your next purchase.

Seen on DVD

Rating: Movie - 9.2/10

Must Own!

Reviewer Score: 9

Reviewed by: MilesC
Date: 12/09/1999

I don't think I've ever seen a movie that managed to mix so many different elements and actually make it work. There's no single genre this movie can be lumped into... Action? Drama? Comedy? This movie often has all these and possibly more in one scene. Especially well done are the scenes that manage to mix humor and suspense without diluting either. This is defintely a movie that warrants repeated viewing. One of my favorites...

Reviewed by: hkcinema
Date: 12/08/1999

After the Chinese Revolution of 1911, three women -- a general'sdaughter (Brigitte Lin), a petty thief (Cherie Chung), and an actress wannabe (Sally Yip) -- find themselves aswirl in intrigue that drags them back and forth between the (ex-) Royal Palace and the Peking Opera theatre run by Yip's father (Wu3 Ma3). The Citizen Kane of Hong Kong, blending action, farce, and political satire into a work of almost vertiginous excitement; the rooftop finale is one of the all-time great jaw-droppers.

[Reviewed by Rim Films Catalog]

Reviewed by: spinali
Date: 12/08/1999
Summary: NULL

Brigitte Lin (the general's daughter), Cherie Chung (the thief) and Sally Yeh (the up-and-coming actress) forge an uneasy alliance in this complex, hyperactive drama centered around the Peking Opera after the 1911 revolution. The final fight scene is roof-burstingly (?) exciting. The soundtrack is great, too.


[Reviewed by Steve Spinali]

Reviewer Score: 8