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BUTTERFLY LOVERS

China, 1953 (MIFF 1956, Programme 20)

Director: Sang Hu, Huang Sha

This beautiful and intriguing Chinese opera film is based on a seventh century Chinese legend. All the parts are played by women from the Shohsing Experimental Opera Theatre.

The playing is of a very high order: the formalised, mime &ndash: like movements, the fluttering fans, and the subtle manipulation of the long sleeves worn by the principal characters are redolent of an ageless culture, and the story is enacted in pleasant colour, against deliberately stylised backgrounds.

The music, with its hypnotic, sensuous dissonance played on primitive instruments (bamboo flutes, guitars, castenets) creates an exquisite novelty to untutored ears.

The story tells how Chu Ying-Tai, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant, disguises herself as a boy in order to attend the all-male university at Hangchow. She meets a young man, Liang Shan &ndash: Po, who is also on his way to the university, and the two swear to be “sworn brothers” during their years of study.

Although she has fallen in love with Shan &ndash: Po, Ying &ndash: Tai revels her secret only to the teacher's wide, and, when she received an urgent summons to return home to her father, she asks her to give Shan &ndash: Po a pendant as a token of betrothal.

When the young man later arrives at Ying &ndash: Tai's house to claim her as his bride, he is shocked when Ying &ndash: Tai tells him that her father has, in her absence, betrothed her to the local perfect's son.

Shan &ndash: Po departs broken &ndash: hearted, and, shortly before the time arranged for her wedding, Ying &ndash: Tai learns that he had dies of grief. She persuades her father to stop the wedding procession near Shan &ndash: Po's tomb, and when the tomb miraculously splits open during a sudden thunderstorm, Ying &ndash: Tai joyfully joins her lover in death.

As peace descends upon the scene, two beautiful butterflies are seen dancing together in the sun.

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