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.