Cinema Epoch, in association with Koch Entertainment,
brings a rather rare item to DVD; a silent movie from China. Romance
of the Western Chamber was made in Shanghai in 1927, and is based on
the play of the same name that dates back to the Yuan Dynasty (1234-1368).
It's short, lasting only 42 minutes, but has some interesting aspects including
some martial arts fighting and a large scale battle. While the subject
matter and film language used is a little bit too far removed to connect
closely with today's audiences, the movie is still a rare look into the
type of entertainment that China was producing in the days before sound.
ancient China, a young scholar named Chang Kung is on his way to the capital
to take the imperial exam. He stops at a temple to rest and study
for the night where he meets Ying Ying, the beautiful daughter of the late
Prime Minister. He is immediately smitten by the young beauty, but
he can do nothing about it since they are from different classes.
The bandit king Sung Fei Fu hears about Ying Ying's beauty too, and
decides to have her for himself. He calls together his bandit horde
and sets out to attack the temple. Once there he demands that the
priests turn over the young girl or he will burn the temple to the ground.
Inside everyone is panicking. Madam Cui, Ying Ying's mother, proclaims
that she will give Ying Ying's hand to whoever can defeat the bandit army.
This is all Chang needs to hear. He hatches a plan that just might
save all of their lives.
was an enjoyable movie, but more for the historical aspects than for the
story itself. There were several scenes that, due to cultural differences,
seem strange today. When Ying Ying's mother tells Chang to be sure
to pass the imperial test he's been studying for, the young woman looks
inexplicably sad. There are sections at the beginning with a monk
staring at the young scholar that I watched a couple of times and still
couldn't make out what the director was trying to say. The ending
was also a little odd.
There are only a few of these instances however, and the movie is generally
very easy to follow. Of course, being only 42 minutes long, there's
not any time for character development or even personalities to be revealed.
Because of this the film doesn't hold much emotional impact, at least to
these western eyes. It's hard not to think of how Mary Pickford would
have played the role of Ying Ying, filling the young noblewoman with sympathy
and warmth, as where in this film the actress makes the character aloof.
(Which is a much more accurate portrayal, but it still makes it hard to
understand why Chang falls for her.)
The most interesting aspect of this film is the battle scenes.
While they don't have the polish that later Chinese films would have the
way they depicted battles with swords and pikes worked well. For
some of the large battle sequences images of groups of men fighting were
superimposed over each other (most assuredly done in the camera).
This was an effective and inexpensive way to create a feeling of chaos
and confusion that these battles had. It worked very well.
The section where a messenger leaves the temple and fights several guards
with a bo staff was fun to view too. It didn't have the quick cutting
and close-ups that would later make Kung-Fu movies so much fun to watch,
but for the time it must have been impressive.
This disc features an orchestral score composed by Toshiyuki Hiraoka.
While this score was pleasant to listen to and was scene specific but didn't
add much emotional impact to the film. The music for the action sequences
weren't very energetic or rousing, and the rest of the score, while not
quite bland, wasn't inspiring.
The intertitles were originally in French. At a later date Chinese
script was superimposed under those. There are optional English subtitles
too, which appear underneath the French and Chinese.
The full frame video was about average for an unrestored film from the
1920's. The image was soft, and the highlights were washed out in
several places. The contrast was generally good however and there
was a fair amount of detail. The beginning of the film has several
missing frames some significant print damage, but this only last for a
minute or two.
There are a couple of problems with the disc however. The framing
is off a little, some of the image on the left side has been cut off.
This means that some heads are cut off on that side and that people aren't
centered in the frame as the director probably intended.
The film also looks like it is being shown too fast. People's
movements, whether riding on horses or just walking about, seemed too rapid.
During the fight scenes this is very noticeable and they seem almost comic,
undoubtedly not the reaction the director was hoping for.
There are no extras.
This is a nice film, though the main appeal is historical rather than
as entertainment. The style is a bit stilted but the action scenes
were fun and worth watching. The print itself could have used some
restoration but it is watchable. This would make a good rental.