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Two sisters from the same opera company who ultimately follow completely divergent life paths are the subject of the 1965 film Stage Sisters. The movie "draws on national traditions and constructs an episodic narrative structure of union, separation, and reunion that dramatized those trials of the sisters and details their emotional fluctuations," to quote from Chinese National Cinema. (Zhang 216) This argument elaborates on the sisters' adventures away from one another, only to discover that their bond is stronger than any difficulties they have faced and that they will ultimately find each other. In the film, I see how massive the influence of family life, social background, society, and culture on the bond between two sisters and interpret that there are numerous odds that can drive even the closes of people apart. Yue Hong and Chun Hua were not sisters by blood but their tumultuous beginnings drove them to each other as though they were. Although Yue Hong was born into the opera troupe, Chun Hua actually begged to join them as a widow trying to escape from her in-laws who want to sell her. It was in fact Yue Hong’s father, Teacher Xing, who convinced the troupe manager to let Chung Hua join, further establishing the bond between the two sisters. Chung Hua is trained into the craft of opera troupe by Teacher Xing. His sudden death is devastating to the both of them and they go on living carrying his dying words to be pure in mind and body, and to work hard in the opera so that they will become famous in the future. From then on out, Chun Hua and Yue Hong find that they only truly have each other to count on and consider themselves as true sisters.
Their arrival in Shang Hai began the drift between the two sisters as the new sites of the big city gave both girls very different perspectives. Yue Hong was starting to feel tired of working in the opera troupe. She wanted an easy life and eventually chose to marry the shrewd manager, Master Tang. Chu Huan, on the other hand, was more community-focused. She was becoming more aware of how mistreated they were. She was conscious of how their arrival caused professional and emotional turmoil to the previous lead, Madame Shang, and how she and the other actresses were not being treated fairly. When Madame Shang hangs herself and blames it on Master Shang, Chu Huan becomes determined to bring justice to her death and with the help of Jiang Bo, a journalist she meets, she works towards making working conditions more favorable towards them so that it does not happen again. This only creates a bigger rift between her and Chu Huan who has begun to regret her decision to marry Master Tang but does not see how she can escape. These occurrences only portray how massive an influence one’s surroundings has on his life. Both girls lived quite similar lives but the choices they made were very different. Yue Hong was heavily influenced by her desire for material things but her unwillingness to work for them while Chu Huan was more focused on living out the legacy of Teacher Xing, her mentor and father figure. In the end, both girls find themselves on the same ground when Yue Hong finally sees the error of her ways, escapes, and Chu Huan finds her and forgives her, accepting her with open arms like the sister they always were and always would be.
The film also heavily portrays the Cultural Revolution in China during this era. The rise of Mao Zedong and social realism made it difficult for anyone in China to be speaking out against opposing political views and any other controversies regarding the government. Films were used to bypass such strict restrictions and showcase strong messages until they were caught, censored, or worse, banned. My argument is supported by the scholar Marchettti, who observes that “many of the Cultural Revolution's most heated battles were fought in the aesthetic realm, and the Shanghai cinema industry became one of its prime targets.” (Marchetti 1989) The film was also heavily criticized for being aesthetically different from mainstream Chinese cinema and caused much controversy especially during a time that Mao Zedong’s “The Great Leap Forward” called for diversity but Chinese culture still called for tradition.
Overall, what made the film remarkable was the many social issues that one could think about. There are numerous socially perspectives from which one could view the film and it does so while offering a peak into the vast and colorful culture of China at an era that was a major turning point for them.
Marchetti, Gina. "Two Stage Sisters: The Blossoming of a Revolutionary Aesthetic." Jump Cut 34 (1989): 95-106.
Zhang, Yingjin. Chinese national cinema. Routledge, 2004.
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