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by Xie Jin
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STAGE SISTERS (Wutai jiemei)

A Film by Xie Jin

China 1964
Color, Mandarin w/eng st, 112 min

::  VHS rental: $100 | VHS purchase: $150
 

Like a handsome Bollywood epic, STAGE SISTERS has something for everyone -- sympathetic heroines, evil capitalists, great music, Hollywood-style melodrama, and revolutionary fervor. Set in pre-Revolutionary China, it is a tragic melodrama with strong political overtones. Though revolutionary in spirit, the film was banned after its debut for "bourgeois humanism”. The director himself was imprisoned at the start of the Cultural Revolution.

Chunhua, a runaway peasant girl is taken in by an opera troupe and meets Xing Yuehong, and soon the two actresses head off to Shanghai to perform in the Shaoxing Opera. Yuehong and Chunhua become close friends but clearly they are moving in different directions. Chunhua meets a revolutionary cadre who involves Chunhua in the Revolution, while Yuehong marries the Theater Manager and lives in middle class style. They ultimately end up in court for a dramatic climax.

Although the film was completed well before the Cultural Revolution in 1966, it has been argued that in 1963 Jiang Qing, the wife of Mao Zedong and a former Shanghai actress, was responsible for banning STAGE SISTERS, not only because she may have deemed it counter-revolutionary, but allegedly to settle some old scores in Shanghai.

Politics aside, STAGE SISTERS is Socialist Realism at its most entertaining and satisfying best.

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