Forever Enthralled

Bertolt Brecht was one of his admirers, as was Charlie Chaplin and Sergei Eisenstein, who even filmed him. Chinese actor and singer Mei Lanfang (1894 –1961) was one of Peking opera’s most significant performers and innovators. His performances helped considerably to popularise Peking opera in the West. His life unfolds in this opulent period drama.
Mei Lanfang was born into a family that had performed Peking opera for generations. Like his grandfather Mei Qiaoling before him, Mei Lanfang later only appeared in female roles and suffered considerable contempt as a result. At the end of the nineteenth century, actors were considered socially to be on a par with prostitutes. But Mei Lanfang is also struggling for recognition within the theatre. In particular, his innovative style of performing – although popular with young people – proves to be a challenge to veteran actor Swallow 13. A life-or-death duel between these two rival performers sees Mei Lanfang emerge as victor. After having found fame in Asia, in 1929 he receives an invitation to the USA. Before long, he is performing on Broadway, no less. But Mei Lanfang pays a high price for his success. Shortly afterwards, his stage counterpart Meng Xiaodong, who regards the married Mei Lanfang as more than just a professional partner, is assassinated at the order of Mei Lanfang’s friend and manager, Qiu Rubai. It is Rubai again who undermines Mei Lanfang’s refusal to perform in China after the Japanese occupation in 1937 by publicly announcing his return to the stage. Mei Lanfang’s appearance at a press conference organised by the Japanese turns out to be the climax of his career …
by Chen Kaige
with Leon Lai, Zhang Ziyi, Sun Honglei, Chen Hong
People’s Republic of China 2009 147’

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CMC Entertainment

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