Romance of the Western Chamber, 1927

Romance of the Western Chamber and Two Stars in the Milky Way, with live accompaniment by Donald Sosin

Chinese Opera Film Series
Friday, March 7, 2014 - 7:00pm

Introduction by Visiting Scholar Kristine Harris, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at the State University of New York and New Paltz.

Romance of the Western Chamber (Xixiang Ji) is the first screen adaptation of a classical play of the same title from the Yuan Dynasty (1234-1368). The film chronicles the blossoming affair between a young scholar and a courtier's daughter, set against the backdrop of a bandit siege. One of the first films from the martial-arts-magic spirit genre cycle, it showcases a unique blend of operatic performances and cinematic inventions. The extant print of the film is a shortened European version preserved by the Netherland Film Archive, thanks to the film’s tour in Europe in 1928-1929.

(Hou Yao, China, 1927, 35mm print courtesy of EYE International, 59 min)

In Two Stars in the Milky Way, a well-known film actor meets a pretty, Westernized singer who is to perform alongside him in a film about traditional China. After a courtship involving mini-golf with mini-pagodas, the two stars fall in love among the sets and studios of the rapidly modernizing Chinese film industry. Showcasing Art Deco Shanghai in all its glory, the film plumbs the clash of social mores in 1920s China, as the demands of provincial life catch up with the modern lovers. The title refers to a legend about lovers who were torn apart and turned into stars in the Milky Way.

(Tomsie Sze, China, 1931, film courtesy of Cinema Epoch, 87 min.)      

Featuring a live score performed by pianist Donald Sosin. With more than one thousand film scores written and recorded to date, Donald Sosin is one of today’s leading silent film composers, and a regular performer at the world’s largest silent film festival, Le Giornate del Cinema Muto in Pordenone, among many other festivals, museums and music venues.

Kristine Harris' recent writing on Chinese film and cultural history has appeared in Opera Quarterly (Spring-Summer 2010), edited by Judith Zeitlin and Paola Iovene; The New Woman International: Representations in Photography and Film from the 1870s through the 1960s, edited by Elizabeth Otto and Vanessa Rocco (University of Michigan Press, 2011); History in Images: Pictures and Public Space in Modern China, edited by Christian Henriot and Wen-hsin Yeh (University of California Berkeley Institute for East Asian Studies, 2012); The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas, edited by Carlos Rojas and Eileen Chow (Oxford University Press, 2013), among others.

This film series is presented as part of the University of Chicago’s Envisioning China: A Festival of Arts and Culture (February 13-June 15). From the magnificent art and spectacle of Chinese opera to rarely screened silent films and world premiere performances, the Envisioning China festival opens a window on the rich cultural heritage of China, past and present.

Co-sponsored by The Smart Museum of Art, the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and UChicago Arts.