In a season of impressive retrospectives (of films by Alfred Hitchcock, Ernst Lubitsch, Pier Paolo Pasolini, and Alain Resnais), the most eye-opening may be the series of Chinese opera films currently underway at the U. of C. Film Studies Center. Chinese opera remains relatively unknown to American audiences, the popularity of Chen Kaige’s Farewell My Concubine and Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues notwithstanding, making the series a worthy cultural lesson. (To boot, all the screenings are free admission.)
Tomorrow night at 7 PM the series continues with Huang Shuqin’s Woman, Demon, Human (1987), screening from a 16-millimeter print. (It’s the last title in the series to screen from film—Zheng Dasheng’s The Inspector and the Prince, which closes the series on May 16, will be projected digitally.) According to the Film Studies Center website, Huang was one of the few female directors working in mainland China in the 1980s, and this film in particular is considered groundbreaking among Chinese critics for its consideration of gender politics. Pei Yanling, a famous Chinese opera actress, plays a fictionalized version of herself, an opera star who defies convention by playing leading male roles—”in particular the underworld god Zhongkui,” notes China Internet Information Center, “who fast becomes her favorite character. Offstage, [Pei’s alter-ego] Qui has an unhappy personal life, but she finds solace through frequent conversations with Zhongkui in her mind.” I don’t know this “Zhongkui” fellow from Adam, but I’m curious all the same.