Chen remembers heroism of Peking Opera star Mei

Wed Feb 11, 2009 3:32am EST
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By Dave Graham

BERLIN (Reuters) - Chinese director Chen Kaige pays tribute to the power of an "ordinary person" in his latest work -- a film about a cross-dressing falsetto singer who became a hero in China for defying the Japanese in World War Two.

"Forever Enthralled" is Chen's homage to Mei Lanfang, one of the country's most celebrated exponents of Peking Opera, a traditional Chinese performance art that includes mime, dance, gender-swapping and a shrill, nasal singing style.

Mei, born into a family of performers in 1894, was one of the first stars of the genre to bring Peking Opera to the outside world, touring Japan, the United States and elsewhere.

"I'm not even a big fan of Peking Opera," Chen said as he showcased the movie at the Berlin film festival. "The only reason I wanted to do this film is Mei Lanfang. Whatever happened to him, he gave it back to the whole world smiling.

"That's the power that only belongs to very brave people," he added. "The reason that we call him a great man is because he was an ordinary person for his whole life. He always carefully listened to what his heart told him. He was a legend."

After Japan's occupation of Beijing in 1937, Mei came under intense pressure to perform for the invaders, but refused despite the risk of reprisals against him. He died in 1961.

Given the film's focus on the heroism of an individual from history, reporters asked Chen, 56, if the Chinese authorities exerted any influence on his portrayal of Mei.

Chen said they did not, but noted he had to show "respect" when he collaborated with Mei's son on the production.   Continued...

<p>Actors Ando Masanobu, Zhang Ziyi, director Chen Kaige, Leon Lai and Chen Hong (L-R) pose during a photocall to promote the movie "Forever Enthralled" at the 59th Berlinale film festival in Berlin, February 10, 2009. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch (GERMANY)</p>