Song at Midnight (“Ye ban ge sheng”)
Directed by Weibang Ma-Xu
Written by Weibang Ma-Xu based on the play “The Phantom of the Opera” by Gaston Leroux
#115 of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die
After it got going, this early Chinese romance/operetta/propaganda/horror film kept me interested, even though it’s not something I will watch again.
(Note: I cannot find or remember the exact character names) The opera “ghost” assists a young tenor to improve his singing. After the man makes a hit, he goes to thank the cloaked figure, who proceeds to relate his sad history. Let us call the “ghost” Song. After fighting bravely for the Kuomintang, Song went to sing at the opera where he fell in love with one of the other performers. Theirs was an eternal passion on an operatic scale. The dastardly “Tang” also lusted after the young woman and told her father that Song was a dirty revolutionary and low-life actor. The father rounded up Song and had him beaten to within an inch of his life. After the woman refuses to have anything to do with Tang, he decides Song won’t have her either and throws acid in his face. Horrified when he saw his face in the mirror, Song made his friends tell his beloved that he was dead. The woman went crazy from grief. Song tried to comfort her by singing when the moon was full.
After Song is finished telling the story, he tells the young tenor he should now comfort the woman. The tenor goes to her and for some reason she convinces herself that he is Song. However, unbeknownst to Song, the tenor also has an epic love. Tang, now the owner of the opera, tries to seduce the tenor’s lover and is rebuffed. Tang tries to strangle the woman but the tenor walks in and the men start brawling. As Tang prepares to stab the tenor, Song appears and after a battle kills Tang. The townspeople see Song’s horrible face and chase him through the town with torches until they corner him in a tower which they set on fire (shadows of Frankenstein). The tenor goes to Song’s beloved and tells her not to grieve. Song would have wanted them to fight on for freedom and liberty in the Kuomintang. The two of them stand looking toward the rising sun as the film ends.
It was a little hard to wrap my head around the Phantom being the most noble and heroic character in the film! This movie truly has a little bit of everything. Western classical music is used in combination with the Chinese opera music and the men largely wear business suits while the ladies are in traditional attire. The acting is very, very histrionic and flamboyant, as I imagine it might be in traditional theater. It all took some getting used to and was not assisted by the dark and grainy print. I can’t say I’d watch again for pleasure but I’m glad I saw it.