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Classic Chinese Cinema:The Love Eterne

06 May 2012 | Chinese Films | by David Zou

Ranked as No.1 in movieview(the No.1 movie magazine in China)’s 100 Years of Hongkong Cinema, The Love Eterne is more than a classic,it’s more like a legend in terms of its achievements and importance in Hongkong cinema history.If you’d like to see something quintessential Chinese,this one should be your first choice.

The Artform

huangmei opera

All the dialogues in the film is sung in Huangmei tone.It originated as a form of rural folksong and dance that has been in existence for the last 200 years and possibly longer. The music is performed with a pitch that hits high and stays high for the duration of the song. It is unique in the sense that it does not sound like the typical rhythmic Chinese opera.

The Taiping rebellion occupied Hubei and brought Huangmei opera to its homeland, Guangdong.The theme of Huangmei opera began to expand with its initial introduction in Hong Kong via the 1959 film The Kingdom and the Beauty. The art form is believed to have come from the massive wave of immigrants from mainland China to Hong Kong in the 1950s. The film that peaked the music genre was this very film.


The Film

the love eterne

The Love Eterne (Liang Shan Bo and Zhu Ying Tai) is a 1963 Hong Kong musical film of the Huangmei opera genre directed by Li Han Hsiang,one of the major directors in Shaw Brothers Studio. It is based on the Chinese classic story The Butterfly Lovers, which is sometimes referred to as the Romeo and Juliet of the Far East.So even you have never heard of the story,the plot should sound familiar to you.

So what made this film a quintessential Chinese film? It broke the limitation of low budget and simple studio settings,the richness of the cinematic language including the beautiful camera movement,the magnificent production design,the perfect combination of the music and image,all those elements added up to a brand new musical genre.Especially the farewell scenes,the fantastic classic Chinese settings really showed some Chinese painting quality in them.It made the audiences believe that all classic Chinese images should like this.Ang Lee watched it when he was only nine years old,after several decades,he promoted the typical Oriental images to Western audiences by Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon.


 The Influence 


Speaking of the influence it made at that time,there was nothing quite like it.It was showed in 196 consecutive days in Taiwan,the final box-office reached 8 million New Taiwan Dollars,easily broke the box-office record,there were 900 thousands of tickets sold,which was three times as the entire Taiwan population.

The more legendary thing about this film is its star-making power,Ivy Ling Po,the actress who acted as a man in the film,became a huge star after it was shown.The popularity was like Greta Garbo in 1930s,there were no other news other than her everyday life in media.When it came to the award season,the Golden Horse committee had big problem of deciding if to award her with Best Actors Award or Best Actress Award.

In a larger picture,it changed the scope of the entire Hongkong film industry.Li walked out of the competition between Shaw Brothers and Cathay ,and founded the first private film company in Taiwan called Grand Films.It brought the first real film industry to Taiwan and grounded the rise of Taiwan cinema afterwards.

If you feel like to watch it,which I strongly recommend,help yourself here.





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  • Great post. Thanks for providing some historical and cultural context for this great film. I saw it years ago and I was really impressed by Ivy Ling Po’s performance and the rich mise-en-scene of Li Han-Hsiang. I’ve seen some of his other films and have been impressed by all of them, especially The Kingdom and the Beauty and The Empress Dowager.
    I look forward to learning more about Chinese cinema on your site.

    • Yeah,Mike,what I’m trying to deliver is more than classic Chinese cinema,but Chinese culture in genera.You should try another musical film called SanXiao,which is also adapted from a Chinese folk tale of the famous libertine Tang Bohu.

      How humble you are to say something like that,I learned much much more from your blog.

      • I haven’t heard of that one but I will definitely try and track it down. I see that the English title is
        “Three Charming Smiles.” I love Chinese cinema but, like most Westerners, know very little about Chinese culture in general. (Incidentally, I am happy to report that I’m going to see Ann Hui’s A Simple Life today. Incredibly, it’s playing at a theater here in Chicago.)

        • Yes,that’s what I’m gonna emphasize in my posts,both Chinese culture and social background,you need all these to fully appreciate the Chinese cinema.

          It’s no surprise at all that A Simple Life is being shown in Chicago,because it is a huge winner in the latest Hongkong Film Awards.

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