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A short history of Peking Opera

from travelchina guide
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About 200 years ago, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), four opera troupes from East China's Anhui Province - Sanqing, Sixi, Chuntai and Hechun, entered the capital, Peking.
The troupes combined Kunqu Opera, Qinqiang Opera, Handia Opera and other styles popular in Peking's theatrical circles at that time.
The present Peking Opera came into being over a half century ago by combining and integrating different styles. It now has the richest repertoire of all operas in China.
The repertoire of Peking Opera mainly comes from tales of previous ages, important historical events, legends about emperors, ministers and generals, stories of geniuses and great beauties.
In the ancient times, Beijing Opera was performed mostly on open-air stages in markets, streets, teahouses or temple courtyards. The orchestra had to play loudly and the performers had to develop a piercing style of singing, in order to be heard over the crowds. The costumes were a garish collection of sharply contrasting colors because the stages were dim and lit only by oil lamps.
Peking opera is a synthesis of stylized action, singing, dialogue and mime, acrobatic fighting and dancing to represent a story or depict different characters and their feelings of gladness, anger, sorrow, happiness, surprise, fear and sadness.
There are four major roles in the Peking Opera - sheng (male), dan (young female), jing (painted face, male) and chou (clown, male and female) and each major role can be divided into different roles.
Peking Opera is a combination of cha (singing), nian (dialogue), zuo (pantomime) and da (acrobatic fighting and dancing).



Key Aspects of Early Asian Cinema


The Wong Fei Hong Films
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Wong Fei Hong was a famous martial artist and doctor of the late Qing Dynasty and early Republican China. Although Wong died in 1924, he is lovingly remembered as a legendary folk hero — largely because of the success of the Cantonese films that have maintained the legend.
Between 1949 and 1959, at least 62 Wong Fei Hong films were produced. They rejected the fantastic, stage-driven elements of the earlier martial arts films in favor of proper martial arts forms, genuine weapons, and authentic Chinese styles. Kwan Tak-hing, who played Wong in all these films, and Shek Kihn, who played his arch rival (best known to Western audiences as Bruce Lee’s nemesis Mr. Han in Enter the Dragon), were both trained martial artists. The Wong Fei Hong films’ use of true martial arts established the role of the martial arts instructor as an indispensable member of the production team. Aside from their tremendous success, the series helped document, promote, and preserve authentic Chinese martial arts.
Wu Xia Pian
The Mandarin term wu xia pian originally referred to the genre of martial arts films. "Wu xia" means chivalrous combat, and "pian" means film. While the Wong Fei Hong films, with their righteous values and moralistic messages, typify the classic wu xia pian, the term would eventually, through popular usage, include post–Wong Fei Hong films that contained gratuitous violence and non-chivalrous combat. The unarmed combat film would not be distinguished from swordplay and armed combat films until much later, with the advent of the kung fu film in the 1970s.
Mandarin Martial Arts Film
Hong Kong’s Mandarin-dominated cinema had traditionally disdained the violence of the wu xia pian (including the Cantonese Wong Fei Hong films) and prided itself on the wen yi pian, or "literary arts films," melodramas or adaptations of novels and plays. By the 1960s, Hong Kong society had become a hybrid of new and old ideologies and East/West cultures. Filmgoers demanded fresher subjects — demands to which Mandarin filmmakers responded by creating a new kind of martial arts film that incorporated special effects and other innovations.
The new genre was launched by films such as Li Hanxing’s Enchanting Shadow (1960), which included blaring sound effects to create suspense, and Yue Feng’s The Swallow (1961), which used a trampoline to impart the illusion of weightless leaps by actors. This film also utilized a number of shots printed in reverse motion.
By 1966, this genre had reached maturity with King Hu’s Come Drink with Me, made for Shaw Brothers Productions (the Shaw Brothers were part of the Mandarin-speaking Shanghai filmmaking talent that relocated to Hong Kong). This film captured the elegance of ancient Chinese martial artistry through inventive cinematic techniques.
The Mandarin martial arts films set the tone for much of Hong Kong's present-day historical and fantastic films, using settings far removed from today to provide an uninhibited romantic vision of the world of martial arts. In addition to their cinematic innovations, King Hu and Chang Cheh provided new codes of behavior for their characters. Moving away from Wong Fei Hong's Confucian attitudes, the films tended toward the Buddhist and Taoist. While earlier wu xia pian presented complex relationships and a careful causality of events, the Mandarin martial arts films emphasized sword-based combat, romance, and the fantastic, with fights erupting on the slimmest excuse. Full of bloodshed, the presentation of the duel was the highlight of the films, and the martial arts swordsman hero was a key element in the formula.

1970s, Bruce Lee & the Kung Fu Film
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In the 1970s, the wu xia pian changed its emphasis from bloody swordplay to unarmed combat. Fighting styles therefore came to depend less on cinematic technique and more on plausibility. While this represented a return to more credible, authentic martial arts, the terms were much different than in the early Wong Fei Hong films.

The Martial Arts Instructor as Film Director
Most professional directors were not actually familiar with martial arts techniques, and even the great films of director King Hu and Bruce Lee required the help of martial arts directors such as Sammo Hung and Han Ying Chieh. With the emphasis on martial arts techniques as the new backbone of the genre, contributions from actual martial artists became increasingly significant. Martial arts instructors soon not only arranged fight scenes, but planned shots, essentially taking over the role of director in some cases.
Southern-Style Kung Fu: Lau Kar Leung
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Lau Kar Leung began martial arts training with his father at age nine, and at sixteen began playing roles in the Cantonese Wong Fei Hong films. Lau pioneered the exploration of authentic martial arts techniques and training procedures, and he became the first instructor to make the jump to director. With the growing popularity of the comedy genre in television and the films of the Hui brothers, comedy seemed an inevitable addition to martial arts. Lau's Spiritual Boxer (1975), which showcased Southern techniques, followed by Karl Maka's The Good The Bad and The Loser (1976), heavily influenced by Western cinema, are regarded as the first kung fu comedies. The Shaolin-derived kung fu styles in Lau's films are prime examples of the practical combative aspects of Southern style kung fu.
Northern-Style Kung Fu: Yuen Woo Ping
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The Northern style kung fu comedy developed about the same time as its southern counterpart. More acrobatic and performance oriented, Northern style fighting originated in the Peking Opera. Like Lau Kar Leung, Yuen Woo Ping's early work was on the Wong Fei Hong films; also like Lau, he was a martial arts instructor-turned-director. Yuen combines Northern-style fighting with other major fist forms to create new forms for the kung fu comedy film. His debut Snake in Eagle's Shadow (1978) broke box-office records. With the even more popular Drunken Master (1978), Yuen helped launch Jackie Chan's career.

Key People/Terms in Martial Arts Film History:

SHAOLIN TEMPLE--5 MONKS-->3 MONKS
PEKING OPERA
Wong Fei Hong
Wu Xia Pian
Lau Kar Leung
PEI PEI CHANG
Bruce Lee
Yuen Woo Ping
Jackie Chan
Sammo Hung
Jet Li
MICHELLE YEOH
JOHN WOO
ANG LEE

PEKING OPERA TERMS:
Sheng, Dan, Jing, Chou
Cha, nian, zuo, da

OTHER TERMS/CONCEPTS TO KNOW:
Taoist idea of balance and harmony: Yin/Yang
Yin=darknes, moon, earth, curves, female, cold
Yang=light, sun, sky, straight edges, male, heat
*Look for examples of Yin/Yang in CTHD--weapons, setting, movement, etc.

Also, consider the following as we watch CTHD:
1. Theme: _is __?
(Perhaps love, honor, loyalty, etc. would be good aspects to explore as themes.)
2. Main conflict: Man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. self, etc.
3. What is the significance of the Green Sword of Destiny?
4. What is the relationship between Li Mu Bai & Shu Lien?
5. What is the relationship between Jade Fox and Jen?
6. What is the relationship between Jen and Lo?
7. What does destiny mean anyway? Who or what is in control of it? (Look it up!)
8. Pay close attention to cinematography--this film employs beautiful camera work and sweeping landscapes. Look for the use of negative space.
9. Pay attention to the blend of martial arts and fantasy--especially in the bamboo fight scene.
10. Consider the attributes of love and honor in this film.
11. What does the title mean? Who is the Crouching Tiger? Who is the Hidden Dragon?

Production Notes:
Setting--China, 1778
Li Mu Bai--swordsman/warrior monk--gives up Green Destiny--asks for Shu Lien's assistance
Shu Lien--guardian--excels in martial arts
Jade Fox--murderous thief--excels in martial arts--killed Li Mu Bai's master
Jen (Xiao Long)--governor's daughter--betrothed to the son of a very powerful family
Lo (Dark Cloud or Xiao Hu)--desert bandit
*The term "Han" refers to : a ember of the principal ethnic group of China, constituting about 93 percent of the population, especially as distinguished from Manchus, Mongols, Huis, and other minority nationalities.
*The term "Manchu" or "Manchurian" refers to: A member of a people native to Manchuria who ruled China during the Qing dynasty (which was in rule during 1778). They were people who lived in Manchuria for many centuries and who ruled China from 1644 until 1912. They tried to keep themselves from being absorbed by the Chinese, but when the dynasty was overthrown in the 20th cent. these efforts failed; gradually, they became part of the general Chinese population.