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今日北京:《乾旦路》导演卓翔--古老仪式艺术的生存

(2013-01-09 17:30:48)
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乾旦路

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December 21 2012 page 6
By Chen Nan                                                            
                                                                           
My Way (2011) is a 72-minute documentary about two Cantonese opera whizzes in Hong Kong, Wang Houwei and Tan Yinglun, striving to revive the old arts and to transform their artistic ideals into reality.

The work is composed of two parts: one depicts the story of 11-year-old Tan; the other is about the backstage life of the two young opera stars.


My Way is director Cheuk Cheung’s first documentary work. This Hong Kong filmmaker follows two youths who have been captivated by male dan – a female lead role that is typically played by male actors.

Marginal men in a marginalized art

The first part of the documentary, shot in 2004, is devoted to the early life of Tan, a drama prodigy with his family’s support to continue as an artist.

The second part was shot from 2009 to 2011, mainly focusing on the two performer’s life struggles.

Born into an ordinary family, Tan was endowed with operatic gifts. Influenced by his grandpa, Tan had tremendous enthusiasm for traditional opera. As a child, he watched opera actors perform. When the stage transformed and was radiant with light and magic, his eyes doubled in size. He longed to be like them.

Of course, art does not exist purely out of passion. So in addition to documenting the ideal, it also illustrates the difficulties of balancing artistic dreams with scholastic and family pressures.

The picture shifts from 2004 to the present lives of Tan and Wang.

Opera performers must be trained, stretching and contorting and disciplining their bodies, to learn the precise and demanding techniques of makeup and song.

All these are considerably time-consuming, and Tan gradually suffers from insomnia, hardly attending school.

But Tan can’t afford to quit school; he knows if he drops out of school he could only be a waiter in a restaurant.

In addition, because the adult Tan no longer had a slender build and soft features, he began to play male roles in the opera. Inevitably, he felt the on-stage pressure.

On the other hand, Wang pursues the role of dan against the strenuous objections of his mother.

In order to dispel people’s bias on cross-gender performance, Wang tried to make a difference in this field, hoping to be a dan icon in Cantonese opera, as Mei Lanfang did in Peking opera.

From assignment to documentary

The two leading actors first met when Wang was a student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts in 2004.

By that time Tan, the child with a feminine voice, was trained to play female roles in opera. Wang was fascinated by Tan’s early start as a dan.

In order to finish a film assignment given by his college professor, Wang decided to approach Tan in order to make him the subject of his film.

Through his efforts, Wang also tried to show his mother how families could support a child to relentlessly pursue their artistic dreams.

From then on, the two opera performers became good friends, clad in their opera costumes on the same stage, forming a partnership in art.
Years later, Wang’s college friend, Cheuk, who was attracted by the old art form, hoped to record his understanding of traditional opera by filming actors.

“Through some research, I realized that Wang and Tan’s lives were intimately intertwined. Therefore, I decided to juxtapose their paths in this film, and thus the current rendition of My Way was shown,” said the director.

“I try to follow the life of opera performers to record how they reserve traditional values and preserve their artistic dreams in such a commercial society,” Cheuk said.

Cheuk is also concerned about the interaction between actors and social context.

“I hope to narrate a Hong Kong indigenous story and establish a connection between this movie and Hong Kong," said him.

This is the film's fundamental point. To convey it, the director draws parallels between contemporary and traditional arts in Hong Kong and the real lives of the two actors.

This focus attracted investment from CNEX, short for “Chinese Next” and “See Next,” a non-profit foundation devoted to the production and promotion of documentaries by Chinese filmmakers.

His film project proposal intrigued Sylvia Chang.

As one of the producers of CNEX, she strives to facilitate cultural exchange through supporting documentaries depicting contemporary Chinese people.
Moved by the ingenuous opera performers and their perseverance, she suggested extending the script into a feature-length documentary.

Forging a path

Cheuk considered the most important factors in opera were the performers, as they are recording our culture through their bodies and personal devotion.

But their off-stage lives are scarcely seen; no one understands their inner world.

“The position of male dan in opera circles is similar to the status of artists in society; they can hardly be considered as mainstream individuals,” Cheuk said.

Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan city that is considered as an intersection of western and eastern cultures, is supposed to embrace multiculturalism.

“However in such a city, to ordinary people, art can probably only be regarded as an interest, but not a profession, and art may be labeled as a minority activity,” the filmmaker said.

Since the transmission of old art forms have met with financial and marketing issues, they gradually become marginalized.

“In a profit driven society like Hong Kong, I’m afraid that Cantonese Opera is vulnerable to losing its meaning and sustainability,” he said.

Art has always been a luxury item in Hong Kong. The practical realities of everyday life force art to be compromised or overlooked.

But thanks to those young people who have perseverance and love, an artistic path does not necessarily lead to a dead end.

今日北京:《乾旦路》导演卓翔--古老仪式艺术的生存


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