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Fantômes dans l'Extrême-Orient d'hier et d'aujourd'hui - Tome 1

 | 
Marie Laureillard
, 
Vincent Durand-Dastès

La voix des fantômes : fantômes dans la littérature et le théâtre classiques

The Resurrection of Female Ghosts from Classical Chinese Opera and the Hollywood Tradition in Cantonese Cinema

La résurrection des fantômes féminins de l’opéra classique chinois et de la tradition hollywoodienne dans le cinéma cantonais

粵語片的艷屍回魂—中國傳統戲曲及好萊塢電影的承傳與轉化

Kenny K. K. Ng 吳國坤

Résumé

Since the advent of film censorship administered by cultural bureaucrats in 1930s Shanghai, Chinese horror cinema had become a tabooed subject because it was spreading superstitions and “feudalistic” beliefs. The post-1949 Communist regime continued to sanctify its state-owned cinema by exorcising demonic elements from the screen, while reserving the wicked spirits as malicious labels for her ideological class enemies. The unwelcomed supernatural beings and wandering Chinese spirits had nowhere to go but took roots and flourished in postwar Hong Kong cinema, particularly in Cantonese-speaking pictures. Cantonese ghost films have been a hybrid genre drawing on myth and sorcery from Chinese operatic repertoires, the Gothic and horror elements from Hollywood, and mixing kungfu action, erotic sexuality, and gruesome blood with the eerie and macabre. In the genre’s twilight zone frequented by the lowly figures of zombies and exorcists, vampires and sorcerers, headless queens and flying heads, there is a powerful representation of the “phantom heroine” who tenaciously return to the human world to seek retaliation, redo justice, or reclaim mortal love. My paper is a preliminary study of Cantonese ghostly films in the 1950s and 60s by looking into a few exemplars, including Li Chenfeng’s (李晨風) A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life (《豔屍還魂記》, 1956), a popular Cantonese appropriation of Tang Xianzu’s 湯顯祖 famous A Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭), and Zhang Ying’s (張瑛) The Haunted Night (《回魂夜》, 1962), allegedly inspired from Alfred Hitchcock.

Avec l’apparition de la censure au cinéma administrée par la bureaucratie culturelle à Shanghai dans les années 1930, le film d’horreur chinois est devenu tabou parce qu’il était sensé répandre superstitions et croyances « féodales ». Le régime communiste, à partir de 1949, a sanctifié le cinéma d’État en exorcisant les éléments démoniaques de l’écran, tout en réservant l’étiquette malveillante d’esprits maléfiques à ses ennemis de classe idéologiques. Les êtres surnaturels et esprits chinois errants, si mal accueillis, n’eurent d’autre choix que de se réfugier dans le cinéma de Hong-Kong, où ils s’enracinèrent et prospérèrent, en particulier dans les films cantonais. Le cinéma de fantômes cantonais est un genre hybride puisant dans les mythes et la magie du répertoire de l’opéra chinois ainsi que dans le gothique et le films d’horreur de Hollywood, mêlant action du kungfu, sexualité érotique et terribles bains de sang à l’étrange et au macabre. Dans une zone floue peuplée d’humbles personnages de zombies, d’exorcistes, de vampires, de sorciers, de reines acéphales et de têtes volantes, on trouve une représentation puissante de l’« héroïne fantôme » qui retourne obstinément vers le monde des humains pour y prendre sa revanche, rendre justice et susciter un amour fatal. Cet article est une étude préliminaire des films de fantômes cantonais des années 1950 et 1960 à travers quelques exemples, dont Un beau cadavre ressuscité (《豔屍還魂記》de Li Chenfeng (李晨風), 1956), appropriation populaire cantonaise du célèbre Pavillon des pivoines (牡丹亭) de Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖, et la nuit hantée (《回魂夜》de Zhang Ying (張瑛), 1962), supposément inspiré d’Alfred Hitchcock.

1930年代民國期間,國民黨文宣部門開始厲行電影審查措施,仗賴儒教和新生活運動,以科學和掃除“封建”和迷信之名,行黨國專政之實。1949年後中共建政,對文化監控殆無異于前人,繼續凈化國營電影,驅走銀幕上的魑魅魍魎,以至一切靈異之物,皆視為意識形態上的階級敵人,為其貼上邪惡的標籤。蓋電影雖為西方科技產物,但早期中國電影的確充斥不少神怪片,張皇怪力亂神,在民初的亂世,曾大行其道,娛樂至上,頗得民心。新中國成立後,鬼神妖怪也曾花果飄零,無處容身,被冷落的鬼魅卻庇蔭和托身於戰後的香港電影,尤其是粵語片。香港的粵語鬼片成為了一種混合的電影類型,既吸取了中國戲曲劇目的神話與巫術元素,以及好萊塢哥德式的恐怖片 (Gothic horror),並融合了功夫動作、情慾和恐怖的血腥與陰森的怪誕。在這個類型的“迷離時空” (twilight zone)充斥著殭屍與驅魔人、吸血鬼與巫師、無頭皇后與飛頭女鬼。這些幽靈女鬼
(phantom heroine)的化身,她們執著於返回人間,以尋求報復、伸張正義、重拾凡人的愛情或人間的正道。本文將要探討張瑛的《回魂夜》(1962年),一部深受希治閣(Alfred Hitchcock)電影的啟發,以及李晨風的《豔屍還魂記》(1956年),改編自湯顯祖著名劇目《牡丹亭》的通俗粵語片,嘗試對1950及60年代的粵語鬼片作初步研究。

Texte intégral

  • 1 I have achieved this paper partly because of the support of the General Research Fund (...)
  • 2 Xiao Zhiwei, 1999, “Constructing a New National Culture: Film Censorship and the Issues (...)
  • 3 “Yueyu pian jiang qu juejing” (Cantonese films soon to be extinct), Qing Qing Dian (...)

1With the advent of film censorship administered by cultural bureaucrats in 1930s Shanghai, Chinese horror cinema was made anathema to the government because it was claimed to be spreading superstitions and “feudalistic” beliefs1. The Kuomintang (Nationalist Party or KMT) regime began censorship campaigns to eliminate magic/ghost movies from mainstream theater screens. Along with the martial arts genre that exhibited superhuman powers, ghost films were deemed a kind of “fantastic play” (shenguai pian 神怪片), thereby threatening the goal of nation-building because they were unscientific and counter-progressive. In the eyes of the Nationalist government, on the other hand, Cantonese dialect cinema, which had been thriving in the southern parts of China and colonial Hong Kong since the invention of talkies, was the chief ideological suspect in hampering the linguistic unification of the nation and the country’s political unity.2 It is simply not a historical coincidence that ever since the introduction of sound into Chinese cinema in the 1930s, Cantonese films had been lined up with ghosts and superstitious subjects in motion pictures as direct targets for censorship. The KMT government attempted to ban Cantonese dialect movies and eradicate magic, ghost or superstitious films. Evident hostility towards popular Cantonese pictures was attested by a polemic published in 1948, which predicted the extinction of Cantonese pictures and described the dialect cinema as a “contagious disease that not only can eradicate the whole film community of the southern Chinese region, but even more abominably, can kill off the ‘conscience’ of the good people of China”.3 Commercially as well as socially, however, the Cantonese talkies featuring undesirable spirits, supernatural beings and spectral fantasies proved to be a popular medium of entertainment for the vast majority of Cantonese-speaking audiences in southern China and Hong Kong.

2Political factors aside, the offensives against the Cantonese sound film industry manifested the deeply ingrained rivalry between Mandarin pictures and Cantonese dialect films in an early phase of Chinese cinema history. The arrival of sound technology in the movie industries during the 1930s fundamentally changed the cultural landscapes of Chinese-language cinemas, with huge implications on dialect films in terms of developing their own traditions and business potential. Since then, most importantly, British colonial Hong Kong had emerged as the largest Cantonese film production center since the 1930s, exporting its product not only to Cantonese-speaking communities in South China, but also to markets of the Chinese diaspora in Southeast Asia and North America. The assimilation of Cantonese opera performance into talkies and the popularization of gramophone records further propelled Cantonese films into a vibrant form of dialect cinema, promising lucrative profits in South China regions and Southeast Asia with its tremendous appeal for local Cantonese-speaking populations. The keen competition for market shares and cultural supremacy between Mandarin and Cantonese film industries since the 1930s served as a prelude in the ensuing decades to the enduring rivalry between Cantonese cinema and a politically dominant Mandarin cultural policy in the name of Chinese nationalism. The birth of dialect talkies and the cultural politics engaged by Cantonese-speaking films have essentially shaped the uneven contours of Chinese-language cinemas as a locus of multiple regional variants, phonic accents, dialectal confluence and Chinese identity politics.

  • 4 Pang Laikwan, 2002, Building a New China in Cinema: The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema M (...)
  • 5 Zhou Chengren, 2011, “Glory Be with Cantonese Films: Ng Cho-fan and Union Film” , in Grace (...)

3It is beyond the scope of this paper to delve into the historically complex responses of Cantonese filmmakers to the accusations of producing cheap and shoddy quickies of mere entertainment value. Suffice it to say that from the 1930s to 1950s left-wing émigré filmmakers and concerned Cantonese filmmakers in Hong Kong promoted major campaigns to “clean up” the Cantonese film industry by injecting socially progressive and even patriotic content into the dialect cinema and expelling the fantastic and weird from the screens.4 After 1949 a group of concerned Cantonese film workers launched the third “Cantonese Film Clean-Up Movement” in an effort to lift artistic standards against the backdrop of commercial filmmaking and perfunctory production (some 1,500 to 2,000 Cantonese pictures were claimed to be made in the 1950s).5 At a time when the cultural habitat of a dialect cinema was invariably overshadowed by Chinese national politics, how could the Cantonese film enterprise embrace the intellectual imperative of cultural nationalism and aspire to be an influential participant in Chinese cinema? As the post-1949 Communist regime continued to exorcise demonic elements from its state-owned screens while ideologically reserving the wicked spirits as malicious labels for class enemies, was there a place for ghosts on silver screens?

  • 6 See Ng Ho, 2003, “Some Primitive Reminiscences: Myth, Sorcery, and the Opera Film” (...)

4The ghost stories without ghosts Cantonese ghost films are a hybrid genre drawing on myth and sorcery from Chinese operatic repertoires, as well as gothic and horror elements from Hollywood; they mix kungfu 功夫 action, erotic sexuality, and gruesome blood with the eerie and macabre. The result is a heterodoxy of generic combination including comedy, kungfu, thrillers, melodramas, and even opera films. For instance, supernatural elements abounded in some popular subgenres of the Cantonese opera film in 1950s Hong Kong, with morbid plots of the headless queen, the severed head, infanticide, and cannibalism. The Cantonese opera troupes that formed the basis of opera films were extremely superstitious communities, in which many theatrical performances were enacted to exorcise inauspicious or wicked spirits.6

  • 7 Fonoroff Paul, 1997, Silver Light: A Pictorial History of Hong Kong Cinema 1920–19 (...)
  • 8 Yu Mo-wan, 1989, “Xiangang guiguai pian zhetan” (Random talks on Hong Kong ghost movies), (...)

5In the early post-war years, however, the periodic “clean-up” campaigns launched by left-wing filmmakers to drive out the spectral fantasies of ghosts from Cantonese screens may have led to what Paul Fonoroff calls “the appearance of numerous non-ghost (ghost) stories” in Hong Kong cinema, such as Ghost Woman of the Old Mansion (Guwu yaoji 古屋妖姬) (1949), The Wandering Dead (Guwu xingshi 古屋行屍) (1949), The Haunted House (Guiwu 鬼屋) (1950), Strange Tale at Midnight (Banye qitan 半夜奇談) (1955), The Bride from the Grave (Gui xinniang 鬼新娘) (1964), and Devil’s Love (Mogui de aiqing 魔鬼的愛情) (1964).7 Veteran Hong Kong film historian Yu Mo-wan 余慕雲 estimated that there were no more than forty movies on ghostly and strange subjects (guiguai pian 鬼怪片) in the 1950s, amounting to less than 2% of the total.8 Apparently, the 1950s and 1960s Cantonese ghost movies took a progressive stance in denying the existence of ghosts or spirits also because Chinese filmmakers carried the burden of Confucian skepticism in discrediting non-human existence such as the supernatural and the eerie. As a film critic commented on the ghostly elements in early post-war Cantonese cinema:

  • 9 Cheng Yu, 1989, “Under a spell”, Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Ur (...)

Many of the ghost movies of the traditional Cantonese cinema (50s and 60s) were psychological, didactic mastheads using the theme of ghosts to impart a materialistic point-of-view. Hence such movies were invariably anti-superstition, preaching the non-existence of ghosts. Their line of argument reflects the fact that the traditional Cantonese cinema was carrying the burden of Confucian ideology on its back.9

The appearance of “ghost movies without ghosts” in Cantonese pictures is best exemplified by The Night of Spirit Returns (Huihun ye 回魂夜, dir. Zhang Ying 張瑛) (1962). Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), the film centers on a mysterious and seemingly demon-possessed wife (Bai Yan 白燕). She terrifies her husband by claiming that she has contact with her dead sister, who has summoned her to go to the realm of the dead on the “night of spirit returns”. This was the night in which the spirit returns to the house a few weeks after the living person dies. The male protagonist, a chief inspector (Zhang Ying), is entrusted by the woman’s husband to investigate and follow the possessed woman. One night, the woman asks to meet the inspector in a Buddhist temple, where she runs up to the top of the tower and throws herself down.

6In The Night of Spirit Returns, the Chinese inspector figure is obviously modeled on James Stewart’s character in Vertigo, who suffers from a terror of heights, and hence cannot climb the church tower to save the woman. While Hitchcock’s original film is more interested in the male inspector’s obsession with the mysterious woman and his melancholic depression after losing her, the Cantonese remake offers a “cleaned-up” version of a detective thriller. In the Cantonese film, the male inspector is not sexually or romantically attracted to his target. He can always stick to his faith that there is no ghost behind all the strange happenings in the human world. Even after he witnesses the suicidal jump of the woman and encounters some ghostly beings, he never doubts his conviction that these must be something of a smokescreen with which somebody wants to cover a malicious human scheme.

  • 10 Li Chaotao [Li Cheuk-to], “Introduction”, 1989, Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema, (...)
  • 11 Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) was remade into the Cantonese version as The Ghost Retu (...)
  • 12 For a discussion about Vertigo and the film’s relation to the gothic, see Salotto (...)
  • 13 Todorov Tzvetan, 1975, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Ithaca, N (...)

7In a sense, in pursuing his investigation our Chinese inspector betrays more powerful rationality and shrewdness than James Stewart’s character does, and he finally uncovers the evil plot of the husband, who had disguised the woman as his wife in order to lay hands on a hefty fortune from his real wife. In the 1950s and 1960s, a Hong Kong film critic notes, Cantonese filmmakers still “reacted to the idea of a ghost story as to a taboo”.10 It may not be merely coincidental that Cantonese cinema in this period had a fondness for Hitchcock.11 The Hollywood director’s thrillers about murder and vanished women can be viewed as modern and urban variations of the gothic tales and the ghostly feminine.12 Tzvetan Todorov has aptly pointed out that in modern times detective stories have replaced ghost stories as major popular narratives to appeal to human curiosity and fear of the unknown. While readers of fantastic texts prefer the supernatural explanation, the detective stories offer us rational solutions to the realms of mystery.13 On similar lines, Hitchcock’s narrative style of detective thrillers attracted Cantonese filmmakers and audiences; behind the facade of a ghost story lay a psychological hang-up and a rational resolution, so as to avoid accusations of the fantastic or the supernatural as unwarranted superstitions in films.

When a phantom-heroine is resurrected in colonial Hong Kong: A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life

8In the period from the establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 to the end of the Maoist period in 1978, mainland Chinese films were primarily made for, and viewed internally by, audiences living within mainland China under the geopolitics of the Cold War (with occasional exceptions when some representative films could have been sent to other communist states to serve as a vehicle of cultural diplomacy). As the PRC government closed the Chinese film market to the outside world, Hong Kong emerged as the largest Chinese-language film production center outside of China. The former British colony produced not only a substantial number of Mandarin pictures but also churned out diverse Chinese-dialect cinema, such as Amoy-dialect films, Hokkien films and various operatic film genres for the markets in Taiwan and Southeast Asia. Above all, Cantonese cinema remained the major type of filmmaking and movie entertainment in colonial Hong Kong. As British colonialists arguably adopted a laissez-faire policy in economic and cultural spheres, thus permitting Chinese-language cinemas (Cantonese and Mandarin pictures, and diverse dialect films) to flourish locally and in Southeast Asian markets, the cultural habitat of the Cantonese cinema was invariably overshadowed by Chinese national politics and the intellectual visions of cultural nationalism.

9In the second part of the essay, I continue to examine ghost representations in Cold War Hong Kong cinema with the leading question: When local Cantonese filmmakers warned themselves against spreading superstitious and feudal ideology in the Chinese cinematic world, in what changed forms could the unwelcome and wandering Chinese spirits continue to haunt post-war Cantonese pictures? This part deals with a filmic adaptation of a classical Chinese ghost story and romance undertaken by the Zhonglian Film Company 中聯 (Union Film Enterprises, 1952–1967). Jointly founded by a group of Cantonese film actors and directors actively promoting the status of Cantonese pictures in post-war Hong Kong (led by cinematic celebrities like Wu Chufan 吳楚帆 and Bai Yan), Union Film) was run as a cooperative modeled on the collective creation methods of left-wing film companies (Chang Cheng 長城 [Great Wall], Feng Huang 鳳凰 [Phoenix], Sun Luen 新聯 [Xin Lian]). With the mission to rescue Cantonese cinema from a state of “spiritual” decline, the studio refused to partake in shoddy projects and lesser entertainments of superstition and feudal ideology. Battling between political idealism – with a tinge of May Fourth progressivism and critique of traditional Chinese culture – and the drive for profits, Union’s filmmakers pursued artistic excellence in directing, acting, scriptwriting and production as much as they maintained the spirit of realism and moral didacticism in their works. Out of a total of forty-four films produced in the studio’s short fifteen-year history (compared to 1,500–2,000 Cantonese film titles allegedly churned out in the 1950s alone), more than half were cinematic adaptations of domestic and foreign literature, drawing from classic novels and operas, modern theatrical works, and popular airwave novels.

  • 14 Since the early 1600s, The Peony Pavilion has been performed in a musical style known as (...)

10I venture to study A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life (Yanshi huanhun ji 艷屍還魂記, dir. Li Chenfeng [Lee Sun-fung] 李晨風) (1956), which is (possibly the first) filmic rendition of the sixteenth-century play The Peony Pavilion (Mudan ting 牡丹亭) by Tang Xianzu 湯顯祖 (1550–1616).14 Like many left-wing Cantonese films produced in this period, this Union motion picture about a famous classical Chinese ghost story was explicitly “apolitical”, as Union’s filmmakers sought to localize the traditional romantic tale in terms of plot, setting and film style to cater to the markets of Hong Kong and overseas Chinese communities. Beneath the legendary love story’s veneers of romance, death and human comedy, I seek to explore the film’s subtle storytelling and aesthetic performance as a particular response of post-war Cantonese cinema to its own experience of crisis and cultural positioning.

  • 15 On Union’s adaptations of Western literature, see Guo Ting, 2011, “Dickens on the Chines (...)
  • 16 According to the catalogue in the Hong Kong Film Archive, shortly before its C (...)

11At first glance, it seemed to be a surprising choice for Union Film) to adapt Tang Xianzu’s classical drama from stage to screen. Why were the Cantonese film workers interested in a seventeenth-century Ming dynasty opera about a lovesick woman’s death and reincarnation? How did the operatic text’s fantastic world and its superstitious beliefs fit into Union’s social-realistic approach? To some extent, the demand in the market for elaborate film scripts and the mission to improve the artistic standards of Cantonese films may account for Union’s penchant for adapting both Chinese and foreign literary classics for the screen.15 Still, altering a Ming dynasty drama comprising fifty-five acts and condensing it into a Cantonese dialect film of less than two hours was a great challenge for any filmmaker. In fact, the director could possibly have adapted the Ming dynasty drama based on an earlier “airwave novel” (kongzhong xiaoshuo 空中小說) designed for radio broadcast.16 The radio broadcast version of The Peony Pavilion would have first popularized the classic Chinese story among local audiences as well as providing an indigenized format of the classical drama for Union to work on.

12Set in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), The Peony Pavilion tells the story of Du Liniang 杜麗娘, the daughter of a prefectural chief, who dreams of a romantic encounter with a handsome young scholar named Liu Mengmei 柳夢梅. Her dream turns erotic as their romance quickly blossoms. In the original play, Du Liniang has never met the young scholar of whom she dreams. But her longing for him is so passionate that she soon withers and dies of unrequited love. She then returns as a ghost three years after her death to wait for her “first” encounter with Liu Mengmei in the real human world.

  • 17 Tang Xianzu, 2002, The Peony Pavilion: Mudan ting, 2nd. ed., trans. Cyril Birch, (...)

13Here lies the uncanny paradox of the dream plots that motivate the fantastic play: Can a woman dream about someone who exists but whom she has never met and for whom she eventually dies? Theater fans would know that Du Liniang’s legendary dream scene happens in Scene 10 (“The Interrupted Dream”), whereas Liu Mengmei’s dream is mentioned only in passing by the man himself in Scene 2 (“Declaring Ambition”).17 Have the two dreams intersected – or, do they dream in the same dream?

  • 18 Lu Tina, 2001, Persons, Roles, and Minds: Identity in Peony Pavilion and Peach (...)

14The Peony Pavilion also poses technical challenges for theater and film directors, raising issues of staging and presentation outside the text. How can the theater stage the lovers’ dreams together? How does the woman’s dream time synch with the man’s? There is, as Tina Lu points out, the seeming incompatibility between dreaming and theater. “Theater is all outer show; dreaming, in contrast, is all inner reality. A play about a dream is a creature of paradox, wrestling at all points with the complex correspondence between the inner and the outer.”18 A staged dream is inherently ambiguous to theater audiences, who may find it hard to tell the difference between the character’s inner reality (the dream) when it is outwardly performed on stage.

  • 19 A native of Xinhui 新會, Guangdong, Li Chenfeng [Lee Sun-fung] was born in Guangzhou, Chin (...)
  • 20 For a critique of the film, see Ng May, 2011, “A Garden of Rare Fragrance: Can (...)

15In adapting the dream sequence to the Cantonese film, the director Li Chenfeng manages to carve out creative niches for the film.19 Early in the film the director arranges for Du Liniang (Bai Yan) and Liu Mengmei (Zhang Huoyou 張活游) to dream simultaneously. The film begins with the chance encounters of the two protagonists in real life. On his way home, Liu Mengmei sees Du Liniang in her sedan chair: the director uses point-of-view (POV) shots to express their exchange of glances in a romantic fashion. The protagonists soon meet for the second time in a roadside pavilion as they are taking shelter from the rain. This time the POV shot is even titillating; we see Liu Mengmei stealing a glance at the bare feet of Du Liniang who is inside the sedan chair.20 Love at first sight provides the psychological motivation and paves the way for their rendezvous in their dream.

16With a mission to revitalize the Chinese literary tradition among Cantonese-speaking audiences, Li Chenfeng uses classic Hollywood film language to render the complex and extensive play into a linear plot with clear causality. Setting the time of the story in the early Republican period, Li further modernizes the story by focusing on the romantic love of the man and the female ghost, and their futile attempts to defy Chinese patriarchy and “feudalism”. The dream scene, which is done in elaborate mise en scène, shows how the Cantonese film took great liberties in modifying the classical drama (misty night in the garden, the swing, and the maiden dressed in a white gown singing songs). The man and the maiden long for each other so much that they dream the same dream at the same time. Cinematic montage offers the visual device to show that both protagonists simultaneously fall into sleep and enter their dream world. The handkerchief, which Liu Mengmei picks up in the pavilion and hands back to Du Liniang, serves as the prop to connect the dream scene and reality.

  • 21 Because of its preoccupation with womanhood and female sexual passion, The Peony Pavilio (...)
  • 22 Tang Xianzu, 2002, The Peony Pavilion, pp. 180–191.

17From the first encounter of Liu Mengmei and Du Liniang in the opening scene to the dream sequence of their rendezvous in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, the cinematic set-up is subtly informed by a male-oriented way of looking. Liu Mengmei is an active pursuer and observer of the beautiful young woman, and Du Liniang rendered more or less a passive object of admiration. The film’s unbalanced gender perspective is possibly linked with Union’s thematic concern with – and critique of – the dominant male power of the traditional Chinese family. Yet the Cantonese film differs squarely from Tang Xianzu’s original play and performance, which are infused with femininity by placing the woman in the subject position.21 Furthermore, the Cantonese adaptation can be seen as a “cleaned-up” version of The Peony Pavilion, as any sexual or moral transgressions are abated in the dream sequence. In the original play, Du Liniang has “joys of cloud and rain” first in her dream and then as a ghost (52). The film, however, quarantines any suggestion of carnal pleasures between the lovers. In its dream sequence, the lovers shyly flirt with each other and express their mutual affection in everyday Cantonese vernacular. Liu Mengmei candidly asks Du Liniang whether any arrangements have been made for her betrothal. Indeed, the man’s modest marriage proposal happens much later in Scene 32 (“Spectral Vows”) in The Peony Pavilion.22 In the film, their brief and intensive courtship is rudely interrupted by Du Liniang’s father (Lu Dun 盧敦), who brings his servants and guards to beat Liu Mengmei away and separate the couple. At this point, the protagonists simultaneously wake up. The film thus immediately brings out the theme of family oppression versus individual emancipation.

  • 23 Special publication on A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, Hong Kong Film Archiv (...)

18In the film, meanwhile, Du Liniang is forced by her father to marry her rich cousin, a pedantic Confucian scholar. Despondent over her tragic fate, the maiden dies right before the ceremony of the arranged marriage. In the original play, it is rather the heroine’s romantic desire and lovesickness that cause her premature death. The May Fourth thematic twist is obvious in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, suggesting the discontent of the young with the Chinese traditional family. The critique of traditional family ethics and emphasis on individual love and freedom rendered the Cantonese film adaptation an ideological offshoot of the May Fourth cultural critique, and echoed the Union filmmakers’ attachment to Ba Jin’s iconoclastic denouncement of the Chinese family system. (Earlier in 1953–1954, Union had adapted Ba Jin’s Family (Jia 家), Spring (Chun 春), and Autumn (Qiu 秋) into a cinematic trilogy in Cantonese versions.) In Union’s promotional pamphlet, it is emphasized that Du Liniang is “forced to marry her cousin, and so she dies of melancholy” (bojia biaoge, jiyu er si 迫嫁表哥,積鬱而死). Like the iconoclastic protagonists in Ba Jin’s novels, Liu Mengmei betrays youthful discontent with the feudal family.23

  • 24 Jean-Louis Baudry’s theory of the cinematic apparatus contends that cinema exerts the po (...)
  • 25 For a psychological hypothesis on the complex relationship between dreaming and film, se (...)
  • 26 Yu Anthony, 1987, “‘Rest, Rest, Perturbed Spirit!’ Ghosts in Traditional Chinese Prose (...)

19In film and psychoanalytic theory, the analogy of cinema and dream provides a psychological and ideological basis for the shaping force of cinema that not only brings spectators into contact with films but also molds their understanding of the world.24 Cinema is a viable vehicle in creating a dreamlike state and luring film viewers to unconsciously identify with the characters and their living worlds.25 It is indeed debatable whether the dream sequence in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life succeeded in arousing audience awareness of its critique of Chinese culture and society in line with Union’s leftist ideology. Maintaining the realistic thrust of the film, however, Li Chenfeng recreates the fantastic world in The Peony Pavilion in cinematic terms, where reality mingles with dream. Three years after Du Liniang’s death, Liu Mengmei comes back and chances to stay in her home, now a haunted house typical of a gothic picture. There he courts the ghost-heroine in a lyrical sequence showing their platonic love blessed with domestic happiness. (Du Liniang does housework and sewing for Liu Mengmei; the couple plays chess and hide-and-seek, living a blissful domestic life.) Again, the film’s treatment of their mutual love is far more “romantic” and spiritual, devoid of the sexual connotations readers find in The Peony Pavilion. In Scene 28 of the original play (“Union in the Shades”), Liu Mengmei at first has no idea that the beautiful heroine (Du Liniang) who comes to visit him is a ghost. The scene is remarkable in mingling the living and the dead by hinting at the sexual liaison between the male protagonist and the ghost-heroine. After Du Liniang tells Liu Mengmei about her ghost identity, the latter is first terrified and then suspicious. He recalls what he held in physical intimacy was a female body “in flesh and blood”. Is it possible for a ghost to possess a physical body with fleshly warmth? Can a human copulate with a ghost with no harm? In any case, in The Peony Pavilion, it is the male’s physical desire and sexual pleasure that come before his pledge of love with the heroine. As for Du Liniang, the netherworld, unlike the human world, allows a loose morality. Whereas the woman makes love with her man as an “amorous ghost” (yangui 艷鬼),26 as a human being she has to obey the rules of propriety and female chastity as stipulated under Confucian codes. Thus she insists after her resurrection that she wants to become Liu Mengmei’s wife as a chaste woman, as she says in Scene 36 (“Elopement”): “A ghost may be deluded by passion; a woman must pay full attention to the rites”.

20The Cantonese film has flattened out the ethical ambiguity and moral transgression of the original, but heightens the noble emotion and platonic love between the protagonists. It thus betrays the proclivity of Cantonese cinema to contain the moral transgression or sexual anarchy inflicted by ghostly actions, even if the film itself does not deny the existence of ghosts and spirits. In The Peony Pavilion, Liu Mengmei’s courtship with the heroine is primarily driven by physical desire when Du Liniang approaches him as a mysterious, beautiful woman. In the Cantonese film, however, Liu Mengmei is portrayed as a romantic lover; he seeks his lover for three years before he finally locates her house. Knowing that Du Liniang is a ghost, Liu Mengmei pursues his love with the phantom woman against her warning that a man’s liaison with a ghost will only hasten his death. Curiously, the protagonists claim their intimate relationship to be one of “brother” and “sister”, and invoke the Confucian dictum that they “develop their relationship from emotions that should be bounded by etiquette” (fa hu qing, zhi hu li 發乎情,止乎禮). The prolonged sequence in which the man and the ghost-heroine lead a happy domestic life regardless of social norms remains the most compelling piece of love drama in the film, while the fantastic realm and reality are blended in a dreamy ambience created by cinematography, embellished with repeated shots of the pavilion and scenes of frolic.

  • 27 Idema Wilt L., 2003, “‘What Eyes May Light upon My Sleeping Form?’ Tang Xianzu’s Transfo (...)

21As if to follow the protagonists’ shared dream early in the film, in which their romantic encounter is brutally interrupted by Du Liniang’s father, the lovers’ secret union is broken up by the father, and the fantastic has to give way to social realism. The film portrays Du Bo as a despotic father who first marries his daughter to a rich man as a business deal. After he discovers the rendezvous between Liu Mengmei and his daughter, he viciously calls upon several Taoist priests to drive away his ghost daughter and condemn her to hell. How can a ghost be punished by patriarchal edicts? Beneath the epistemological conundrum lies the film’s ideological critique of the “old society”, as if to resonate with the political message of The White-Haired Girl (Baimao nü 白毛女) in that “the old society had turned human beings into ghosts” (jiu shehui baren biancheng gui 舊社會把人變成鬼). The image of the patriarchal oppressor evokes a stereotypical May Fourth patriarch but diverts from the original play’s humanistic description of Du Bo as a doting father who rather feels sad about seeing his darling daughter slip away with her secret lover.27

  • 28 See Wei Shu-chu, 2011, “Reading The Peony Pavilion with Todorov’s ‘Fantastic’” (...)

22The ghostly narratives in The Peony Pavilion have posed fundamental questions about representation and identity, namely, what makes someone human and someone ghostly? Who is in the position and has the authority to judge the difference between human and ghost? These questions have generated scholarly discussion about Du Liniang’s ambiguous identity after her resurrection in The Peony Pavilion, as her family and the people around her hesitate to affirm her human identity.28 Such claims of identity crisis cast a different light on the female subject in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life. For Liu Mengmei, Du Liniang is forever his romantic lover, his soul mate and his devoted companion, despite being a ghost. For her father, unfortunately, the ghost-heroine is still bounded by traditional family rules. His oppressive actions to punish his ghost daughter and separate her from her lover exacerbate Du Liniang’s identity crisis. Does the ghost still surrender to the imprisonment of feudal barriers in the human community? Du Liniang in the film is thrown into a more desperate situation than her counterpart in the original play because she is both estranged from her family (as an unfilial daughter) and from her lover (as the union between a mortal and a spirit could risk hurting the man). Like other phantom-heroines characteristic of traditional Chinese ghost narratives, the female subject yearns for reincarnation to resume a human identity so that she can reclaim her mortal love with Liu Mengmei as his legitimate wife.

  • 29 Lam Michael, 2011, “Earthly Delights”, p. 59.

23In this sense, it may not seem an arbitrary decision or simply an attempt at brevity for the director Li Chenfeng to eradicate the intriguing corpse-stealing plots of The Peony Pavilion in the adaptation. The chilling Scene 35 (“Resurrection”) in the original drama, in which Liu Mengmei digs up the grave of the “beautiful corpse” and brings her back to life with sorcery and physical touch, smacks of necrophilia, sexual obsession and fetish, with a tinge of horrid humor.29 In a purified film version, the director appropriates a conventional compromise found in Chinese ghost stories by having Du Liniang’s ghost enter a fresh and still unburied corpse and be reincarnated in the film’s finale and romantic happy ending.

Reflection: Reincarnation and adaptation

24Cantonese cinema of the 1950s and 1960s assumed an apparently progressive stance in denying the existence of ghosts or spirits. The characteristic plots of “the ghost stories without ghosts” looked for their Hollywood counterparts for inspirations, and integrated the frameworks of suspense and detective thriller into the ghost narratives to explain away the eerie and the macabre. Some Cantonese movies in this period were sensitive to the negative label of superstitious mentality or unscientific thinking. The filmmakers could have self-consciously cleansed the ghostly or spiritual beings from movie screens, but they understood that the mass audience was emotionally fascinated with the fantastic and the supernatural in popular films. Hence the Cantonese ghost films set in the modern era held a psychological hang-up that inhibited them from dabbling in matters of the netherworld or real ghost characters that existed in their own right. It was indeed behind the foreign facade of Hollywood-type thrillers and mysterious films that Cantonese filmmakers sought to captivate as well as to enlighten the Chinese audience in colonial Hong Kong.

25In this respect, it would be intriguing to ponder the way in which Chinese cinema has dealt with the taboo on the permanent unions of mortal men and phantom-heroines in traditional Chinese ghost literature. A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life ends by first having Du Liniang reincarnated as human before she fulfils her wish to marry to Liu Mengmei. The melodramatic happy ending of the husband and wife who can eventually cohabit together after going through the vicissitudes of love and death promptly brings the audience back to the human world of Confucian order and social harmony. It serves well the ideology of the Union Film adaptation by affirming conjugal and family relationships, as well as averting the suggestion of the ghost marriage between the phantom-heroine and her staunch lover, which would have earned the heartfelt admonishment of Chinese parents.

  • 30 I have left out of this paper another significant Cantonese opera film, Reinca (...)
  • 31 See Zhang Jiande [Stephen Teo ], 2009, “Liaozhai lingyi yu lengzhan dianying聊齋 (...)
  • 32 Li Chaotao [Li Cheuk-to], 1989, “Introduction”, p. 9.

26It should be noted that that the motif of “reincarnation” – rekindling the soul by transferring it to someone else’s body (jieshi huanhun 借屍還魂) – became a strategically compromising narrative denouement for both Cantonese- and Mandarin-speaking films in this period, as they modified and humanized classical Chinese ghost tales on screen. Li Hanxiang’s 李翰祥 The Enchanting Shadow (Qiannü youhun 倩女幽魂) (1960), an adaptation of Pu Songling’s 蒲松 Nie Xiaoqian 聶小倩, stands out as a salient example of Mandarin cinema’s treatment of the ghostly subject by perpetrating a similar happy ending following the reincarnation of the ghost-heroine.30 In Pu’s original story, the scholar Ning Caichen 甯采臣 saves Nie Xiaoqian and brings her back to his home. Ning lives happily with Xiaoqian despite her being a ghost. Pu’s story actually offends the prejudice against the union between human and ghost by depicting the abnormal and unacceptable conjugal relationship between the man and the female spirit, who later regains human vitality and gives birth to two sons. The conservative Confucian mindset notwithstanding (Ning finally succeeds in the imperial examination and has a perfect family), the ending of Pu’s seventeenth-century ghost narrative might have sounded radical and incredible in the eyes of modern Chinese filmmakers in the twentieth century. It is interesting to observe that Li’s cinematic version of Nie Xiaoqian gives an abrupt and different happy ending by hinting at Xiaoqian’s rebirth as a human before she can engage in marriage with her man. Stephen Teo argues that this reincarnation plot could be attributed to the taboo of marriage between ghost and human.31 In a similar light, Hong Kong critic Li Chaotao [Li Cheuk-to] believes that “the Mandarin cinema shared with its Cantonese counterpart the same psychological reservation towards the Horror genre”.32

  • 33 See Ng May, 2011, “A Garden of Rare Fragrance”, pp. 75–77.

27Critics could still argue that Union Film’s cinematic appropriation of Tang Xianzu’s famous ghost drama is more conservative than the original literary representation since the film cleansed the Cantonese picture of any dubious morality and sexuality, but could not get away from its social-realistic ideology.33 Yet, in the twilight zone of popular Cantonese cinema frequented by the lowly figures of zombies and exorcists, vampires and sorcerers, headless queens and flying heads, there was a powerful representation of phantom-heroines who tenaciously returned to the human world to seek retaliation, revisit justice, or reclaim mortal love. Union Film presented an alternative female ghost identity different from the model subservient wife or the sensual and seductive female ghost figure that appeared as a creature of male fantasy in the traditional Chinese literary imagination. In this sense, the Cantonese cinema should be given credit for establishing the humanity of Chinese ghosts and transforming their identities. Ghosts, like their human companions, assume far less fixed and predetermined identities historically, just as they speak various tongues (like Cantonese) culturally.

  • 34 Recent research shows that more than a thousand Hong Kong films have been adapted from l (...)
  • 35 In Chinese etymology, the character for “ghost” has the connotation of “return (...)

28This paper discusses some cases of cinematic appropriations of ghost representations and supernatural narratives by tapping into both Western/Hollywood and traditional Chinese resources. These cases enrich as well as complicate the functions of cinematic renditions or remakes in colonial Hong Kong. Post-war Hong Kong films voraciously drew on an eclectic combination of elements from Chinese classical and May Fourth literary works as well as foreign and popular materials to develop an alternative cinema culture beyond the conventionally local or national boundaries.34 Adaptation is not slavish imitation but a transformative act of cultural translation and revision, a strategic effort that constitutes a dialogue among foreign texts, voices and cultural values in negotiating new identities and possibilities. It is in the transhistorical imagination of the past that the revenant in traditional China continues to haunt the movie screens in colonial Hong Kong. The trope of homecoming in ghost storytelling – the return of a wandering spirit back to one’s own place or cultural origin – takes on an immense significance here.35 At a time when all forms of ghost literature and dramas were banned in mainland China, the apparitions of the past found their way of returning to the former colony governed by “foreigners” (in Cantonese they are colloquially known as the “ghost guys”, that is, gui lao 鬼佬). It is precisely the spectral return of the Chinese past that characterized colonial Hong Kong cinema as the quintessentially trans-regional, transcultural and phantasmagoric silver screen.

Figure 1 (up) and Figure 2 (down) Stills of the Cantonese opera film series The Flying Head Queen (Feitou gongzhu 飛頭公主) (1960). The severed head of the Eastern Princess flies back into the palace, seeking to suck the blood of her rival Western Queen. The light and shadow mise en scène is suggestive of a film noir style (Fig. 1). The vengeful princess is subdued by the magic of a wicked priest as her severed head is trapped inside a jug of wine (Fig. 2). Popular Cantonese opera films were like cult films that smacked of horror, violence, death and phantasmagoria. Not only did the films conjure up the Chinese popular imagination of beheading and the penchant for romanticizing violence, they also bespoke Cantonese filmmakers’ hybrid absorptions of the Western myth of the blood-sucking vampire and the visual trick of staging the severed body in Western vaudeville.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Film stills of The Ghost Returns at Midnight (1964), a loose remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).

Figure 4

Figure 4

Film stills of The Ghost Returns at Midnight (1964), a loose remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).

Figure 5

Figure 5

The Night of Spirit Returns (1962), a Cantonese remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Similar to the fate of James Stewart’s character in Vertigo, the Chinese detective in the Cantonese film cannot make it to the top of the tower (a Buddhist pagoda) to save the woman.

Figure 6

Figure 6

Still of A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life (1956). The Cantonese film adaptation changes the original plot of The Peony Pavilion in that Liu Mengmei has a romantic chance encounter with Du Liniang before they dream of each other. The subjective camera shows the man’s foot-fetish fantasy of the woman.

Figure 7

Figure 7

The dream scene in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, in which Du Liniang sings in the swing in a modernized setting of the private garden.

Figure 8

Figure 8

The marriage between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life. The woman’s missing embroidered shoe serves as the token of love in the man’s search for the vanished heroine.

Figure 9

Figure 9

An earlier Cantonese operatic performance of Reincarnation of the Red Plum (1959) by the famous partners Ren Jianhui 任劍輝 (Yam Kim-fai) and Bai Xuexian 白雪仙 (Pak Suet-sin).

Notes

1 I have achieved this paper partly because of the support of the General Research Fund offered by the Research Grant Council in Hong Kong. Project title: ‘Colonial Censorship and the Cultural Politics of Hong Kong Cinema in the Cold War’.

2 Xiao Zhiwei, 1999, “Constructing a New National Culture: Film Censorship and the Issues of Cantonese Dialect, Superstition, and Sex in the Nanjing Decade”, in Yingjin Zhang, ed., Cinema and Urban Culture in Shanghai, 1922–1943, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 183–199. On martial arts and fantasy film, see Zhang Zhen, 2005, An Amorous History of the Silver Screen: Shanghai Cinema, 1896–1937, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 199–243.

3 “Yueyu pian jiang qu juejing” (Cantonese films soon to be extinct), Qing Qing Dianying 青青電影 (Chin Chin Screen), 32 (6 October 1948); see also Teo Stephen [Zhang Jiande], 2011, “The Hong Kong Cantonese Cinema: Emergence, Development and Decline”, in Song Hwee Lim and Julian Ward, eds., The Chinese Cinema Book, London: British Film Institute, p. 107.

4 Pang Laikwan, 2002, Building a New China in Cinema: The Chinese Left-Wing Cinema Movement, 1932–1937, Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, p. 327; Lin Niantong, 1979, “Some Trends in the Development of the Post-War Hong Kong Cinema”, in Hong Kong Cinema Survey 1946–1968, Hong Kong: Urban Council, pp. 15–25.

5 Zhou Chengren, 2011, “Glory Be with Cantonese Films: Ng Cho-fan and Union Film” , in Grace Ng, ed., One for All: The Union Film Spirit, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp. 9–18.

6 See Ng Ho, 2003, “Some Primitive Reminiscences: Myth, Sorcery, and the Opera Film” and Liu Damu, 2003, “Observations on ‘The Headless Queen’ Series’”, in Cantonese Opera Film Retrospective, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp. 252–258 and pp. 32–34 respectively.

7 Fonoroff Paul, 1997, Silver Light: A Pictorial History of Hong Kong Cinema 1920–1970, Hong Kong: Joint Publishing, pp. 94–97.

8 Yu Mo-wan, 1989, “Xiangang guiguai pian zhetan” (Random talks on Hong Kong ghost movies), Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Urban Council, p. 76.

9 Cheng Yu, 1989, “Under a spell”, Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Urban Council, pp. 20–23.

10 Li Chaotao [Li Cheuk-to], “Introduction”, 1989, Phantoms of the Hong Kong Cinema, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Urban Council, p. 9.

11 Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) was remade into the Cantonese version as The Ghost Returns at Midnight (Wuye zhaohun 午夜招魂) (1964). The Cantonese cinematic affection for Hitchcock also extended beyond the suggestion of ghostly plots. Rear Window (1954) was instantly remade in 1955 by a collective group of Cantonese filmmakers, with the same Chinese translation of the film title (Hou chuang 後窗), as a fundraising campaign to commemorate the death of comedian Yi Qiushui 伊秋水.

12 For a discussion about Vertigo and the film’s relation to the gothic, see Salotto Eleanor, 2006, “She Is Not There: Vertigo and the Ghostly Feminine”, in Gothic Returns in Collins, Dickens, Zola, and Hitchcock, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 101–117.

13 Todorov Tzvetan, 1975, The Fantastic: A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, pp. 9–50. From a perspective of literary discourse, Todorov explains that the fantastic denotes the state of uncertainty experienced by a character who hesitates over whether what he perceives is reality or a supernatural event. Either this character is the victim of an illusion of the senses or the reality that confronts him is controlled by laws unknown to him (pp. 23–33).

14 Since the early 1600s, The Peony Pavilion has been performed in a musical style known as Kun opera (kunqu, 崑曲), so named for its place of origin, the town of Kunshan 崑山 near modern Suzhou. It is generally believed that Tang Xianzu did not write the original play for performance in the style of Kun opera when it was completed in 1598. But adaptations of the play thenceforth became preeminent in the Kun opera repertoire intended for performance before an elite audience in a private household. The tradition of Kun opera then faltered with the rise of Beijing opera in the nineteenth century. Today, however, Kun opera’s prestige endures in the performance of The Peony Pavilion. The classical tradition of the opera has been recreated by Kunqu aficionados and performers, such as in Bai Xianyong’s 白先勇 youth-oriented adaptation of Tang’s play. For the performative tradition of The Peony Pavilion, see Swatek Catherine C., 2002, Peony Pavilion Onstage: Four Centuries in the Career of a Chinese Drama, Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan.

15 On Union’s adaptations of Western literature, see Guo Ting, 2011, “Dickens on the Chinese Screen”, Literature Compass, 8/10, pp. 795–810. For a discussion of Union’s cinematic borrowings as “transcultural adaptations” in the context of 1950s and 1960s Hong Kong cinema, see Wong Shuk-han Mary, 2011, “Personal Weakness, Personal Choice: Eternal Love and Transcultural Adaptations of 1950s Hong Kong Literature,” in Grace Ng, ed., One for All: The Union Film Spirit, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp. 98–108.

16 According to the catalogue in the Hong Kong Film Archive, shortly before its Cantonese film adaptation, Tang Xianzu’s The Peony Pavilion had been rendered as an “airwave novel” on Radio Rediffusion, a commercial wired radio station in colonial Hong Kong.

17 Tang Xianzu, 2002, The Peony Pavilion: Mudan ting, 2nd. ed., trans. Cyril Birch, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 3–5 (Scene 2) and pp. 42–52 (Scene 10). All chapter references and citations from The Peony Pavilion refer to this English translation.

18 Lu Tina, 2001, Persons, Roles, and Minds: Identity in Peony Pavilion and Peach Blossom Fan, Stanford: Stanford University Press, p. 74.

19 A native of Xinhui 新會, Guangdong, Li Chenfeng [Lee Sun-fung] was born in Guangzhou, China in 1909. In 1929 Li was a student of the newly established Guangdong Drama Research Institute (Guangdong xiju yanjiu suo 廣東戲劇研究所), headed by renowned playwright and dramatist Ouyang Yuqian 歐陽予倩. The drama institute carried out a mission to adapt and promote drama in the Cantonese dialect. After moving to Hong Kong in 1933, Li was immediately involved in Cantonese cinema and began his career in 1935. In the early 1950s Li was one of the key figures campaigning for the “Cantonese Film Clean-Up Movement”, and he soon helped to form Union Film with other Cantonese pioneers in the industry. Regarded as one of the “top ten progressive directors” of Cantonese cinema, he scripted and directed nearly a hundred films, many of which were adaptations from May Fourth novels, plays and translated versions of Western literature. Li passed away in colonial Hong Kong in 1985. For Li’s involvement in Cantonese cinema, see Chung Po-yin Stephanie, 2004, “Reconfiguring the Southern Tradition: Lee Sun-fung and His Times”, in Sam Ho and Agnes Lam, eds., The Cinema of Lee Sun-fung, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp. 16–25.

20 For a critique of the film, see Ng May, 2011, “A Garden of Rare Fragrance: Cantonese Opera Pictures by Union Film”, in Grace Ng, ed., One for All: The Union Film Spirit, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, esp. pp. 75–77. Michael Lam has pointed to the scene as showing a “foot-fetish” fantasy; see Lam Michael, 2004, “Remembrance of Things Past: Lee Sun-fung’s Costume Films”, in Ain-ling Wong, ed., The Cinema of Lee Sun-fung, Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, p. 118.

21 Because of its preoccupation with womanhood and female sexual passion, The Peony Pavilion historically had great appeal for women readers who intimately identified with the heroine in fulfilling female fantasies and love. For a feminist study of the play and its relation to women’s literary culture, see Zeitlin Judith T., 1994, “Shared Dreams: The Story of the Three Wives’ Commentary on The Peony Pavilion” , Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 54/1, pp. 127–179; Ko Dorothy, 1994, “The Enchantment of Love in The Peony Pavilion, ” in Teachers of the Inner Chambers: Women and Culture in Seventeenth-Century China, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 68–112. I am grateful to Judith Zeitlin for her comment on my presentation of this paper by pointing out the historically feminine focus of the play and its performance culture.

22 Tang Xianzu, 2002, The Peony Pavilion, pp. 180–191.

23 Special publication on A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, Hong Kong Film Archive, p. 266x.

24 Jean-Louis Baudry’s theory of the cinematic apparatus contends that cinema exerts the power of illusion on film viewers and that powerful illusionism resides in the instruments and institutions that exhibit cinema. See Baudry Jean-Louis, 1999, “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus”, and “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema”, in Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen, eds., Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 5th ed., New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 345–355 and pp. 760–777 respectively.

25 For a psychological hypothesis on the complex relationship between dreaming and film, see Metz Christian, 1982, The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema, trans. Celia Britton et al., Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 101–137.

26 Yu Anthony, 1987, “‘Rest, Rest, Perturbed Spirit!’ Ghosts in Traditional Chinese Prose Fiction”, Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 47/2, p. 429.

27 Idema Wilt L., 2003, “‘What Eyes May Light upon My Sleeping Form?’ Tang Xianzu’s Transformation of His Sources, with a Translation of ‘Du Liniang Craves Sex and Returns to Life’”, Asia Major, 16/1, p. 126.

28 See Wei Shu-chu, 2011, “Reading The Peony Pavilion with Todorov’s ‘Fantastic’”, Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, 33, pp. 75–97. Wei uses Tzvetan Todorov’s theory of “the fantastic” to examine the diverse senses of belief and hesitation of both characters and readers/audiences in reaction to the supernatural scenes in The Peony Pavilion, both as literary text and as stage performance. For a discussion of Du Liniang’s reintegration into human society after her resurrection and the responses of her family, see Lu, 2001, Persons, Roles, and Minds, pp. 97–141.

29 Lam Michael, 2011, “Earthly Delights”, p. 59.

30 I have left out of this paper another significant Cantonese opera film, Reincarnation of the Red Plum (Zaishi hongmei ji 再世紅梅記) (1968), written by the famous Hong Kong playwright Tang Disheng 唐滌生. The film was loosely based on the seventeenth-century drama Story of Red Plums (Hongme ji 紅梅記) by Zhou Chaojun 周朝俊. It is set in the thirteenth-century Southern Song palace and features concubine Li Huiniang 李慧娘, who is killed by the treacherous prime minister Jia Sidao 賈似道 and then returns as a ghost to seek vengeance. Tang extensively rewrote the Ming story into a screenplay for opera film and twisted the ending of the film, in which the ghost woman reincarnates in the body of her lookalike so that she can rekindle her mortal love with the scholar Pei Yu 裴禹. It is worth noting that in the PRC, a new Beijing opera production of the seventeenth-century ghost drama entitled Li Huiniang 李慧娘 was banned and became a target of attack in the anti-superstition campaigns of the early 1960s. See Greene Maggie, 2012, “A Ghostly Bodhisattva and the Price of Vengeance: Meng Chao, Li Huiniang, and the Politics of Drama, 1959–1979”, Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, 24/1, pp. 149–199.

31 See Zhang Jiande [Stephen Teo ], 2009, “Liaozhai lingyi yu lengzhan dianying聊齋靈異與冷戰電影” (The Liaozhai-Fantastic and the cinema of the Cold War), in Ain-ling Wong and Pui-tak Lee, eds., Lengzhan yu Xianggang dianying (Cold War and Hong Kong cinema), Hong Kong: Hong Kong Film Archive, pp. 234–235.

32 Li Chaotao [Li Cheuk-to], 1989, “Introduction”, p. 9.

33 See Ng May, 2011, “A Garden of Rare Fragrance”, pp. 75–77.

34 Recent research shows that more than a thousand Hong Kong films have been adapted from literature since the beginning of the film industry. Film adaptations reached a high point during the 1950s and 1960s. See Liang Bingjun [Leung Ping-kwan] and Huang Shuxian [Mary Wong], eds., 2005, Xianggang wenxue dianying pianmu (Hong Kong film and literature filmography), Hong Kong: Centre for Humanities Research, Lingnan University.

35 In Chinese etymology, the character for “ghost” has the connotation of “return”. The Erya 爾雅 writes: “The character ‘ghost’ (gui 鬼) means ‘to return’ (gui 歸).” Quoted from Zeitlin Judith T., 2007, The Phantom Heroine: Ghosts and Gender in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Literature, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, p. 4. For a reflection of the return of pre-modern spectral images to modern Chinese ghostly narratives, see Wang David Der-wei, 2004, “Second Haunting”, in The Monster That Is History: History, Violence, and Fictional Writing in Twentieth-Century China, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 262–291.

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure 1
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 153k
Légende Figure 1 (up) and Figure 2 (down) Stills of the Cantonese opera film series The Flying Head Queen (Feitou gongzhu 飛頭公主) (1960). The severed head of the Eastern Princess flies back into the palace, seeking to suck the blood of her rival Western Queen. The light and shadow mise en scène is suggestive of a film noir style (Fig. 1). The vengeful princess is subdued by the magic of a wicked priest as her severed head is trapped inside a jug of wine (Fig. 2). Popular Cantonese opera films were like cult films that smacked of horror, violence, death and phantasmagoria. Not only did the films conjure up the Chinese popular imagination of beheading and the penchant for romanticizing violence, they also bespoke Cantonese filmmakers’ hybrid absorptions of the Western myth of the blood-sucking vampire and the visual trick of staging the severed body in Western vaudeville.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 131k
Titre Figure 3
Légende Film stills of The Ghost Returns at Midnight (1964), a loose remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 113k
Titre Figure 4
Légende Film stills of The Ghost Returns at Midnight (1964), a loose remake of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-4.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 172k
Titre Figure 5
Légende The Night of Spirit Returns (1962), a Cantonese remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958). Similar to the fate of James Stewart’s character in Vertigo, the Chinese detective in the Cantonese film cannot make it to the top of the tower (a Buddhist pagoda) to save the woman.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-5.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 81k
Titre Figure 6
Légende Still of A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life (1956). The Cantonese film adaptation changes the original plot of The Peony Pavilion in that Liu Mengmei has a romantic chance encounter with Du Liniang before they dream of each other. The subjective camera shows the man’s foot-fetish fantasy of the woman.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-6.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 118k
Titre Figure 7
Légende The dream scene in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life, in which Du Liniang sings in the swing in a modernized setting of the private garden.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-7.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 199k
Titre Figure 8
Légende The marriage between Du Liniang and Liu Mengmei in A Beautiful Corpse Comes to Life. The woman’s missing embroidered shoe serves as the token of love in the man’s search for the vanished heroine.
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-8.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 211k
Titre Figure 9
Légende An earlier Cantonese operatic performance of Reincarnation of the Red Plum (1959) by the famous partners Ren Jianhui 任劍輝 (Yam Kim-fai) and Bai Xuexian 白雪仙 (Pak Suet-sin).
URL http://books.openedition.org/pressesinalco/docannexe/image/1706/img-9.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 394k

Auteur

City University of Hong Kong