For now our heat wave has ebbed, and June has begun giving us more moderate temps and halcyon days. The TFC, this Friday, June 12, 2009, is proud to present a classic Chinese film, THE KING OF MASKS, aka BIAN LIAN (1996). This movie only had limited distribution in America, but it was shown at the Grand. It was directed by Wu Tianming, a fifth generation filmmaker director, producer, actor, who was made the head of XI’AN Studios in 1984. He has only directed 7 films since 1980. Another which was popular was RED SORGHUM (1987).
KING OF MASKS, aka BIAN LIAN (1996)
Directed by Wu Tian-Ming @ 91 minutes.
Starring Yu Zhu, Zhou Ren-Ying, Zhigang Zhang, and Zhigang Zhao.
Synopsis: An aging street performer in 1930’s China, is called the “King of Masks”, because of his mastery of the silk masked Sichuan Change Art. Sadly, he has no male descendant to pass this dying art to. One day he is sold an orphaned young boy, and he joyously embarks on the child’s apprenticeship. Things progress well until a secret the child has is revealed and their life becomes much more complicated–based on a true story. Roger Ebert wrote, “This is a new Chinese film of simplicity, beauty, and surprising emotional power.” It was a film pick by TFC member Mohsen Mirghanbari.
The film is about a street performer named Wang who practices the change-mask opera art of bian lian as “The King of Masks”. Seeking to pass his art to a grandson, Wang buys what he believes to be an orphan boy at an illegal child market, but quickly learns his new disciple is in fact a girl. As tradition dictates that he cannot pass his art onto a girl, he tries to abandon her, but she stubbornly stays with him. While looking at his masks, she accidentally sets his humble residence on fire. Out of guilt, she runs away. When Wang is falsely accused of kidnapping a rich family’s child, he is thrown in jail. His former disciple goes to one of his friends, a famous performer in the local opera, threatening to kill herself if he or any of his guests, including a local military leader, are unable to help Wang. The King is eventually freed, and finally agrees to teach her the art of bian lian.
James Berardinelli of ReelViews wrote, “One of the film’s key themes is that, when it comes to companionship, initiative, and courage, daughters can yield the same benefits as sons. For a Western audience, this may seem like an obvious message, but, in the patriarchal Chinese culture of the era, male children were greatly prized, while females were not (one can argue at great length about how true that remains today). And, while The King of Masks falls far short of a cry for sexual equality, it nevertheless seeks to demonstrate the social shortcomings of the simple yet painfully shortsighted ideal of not valuing girls. While a host of movies to have emerged from China during the ’90s have been political in nature (often overtly so, resulting in bans), The King of Masks is an exception. Despite being uniquely Chinese in many ways, the basic narrative has a universal appeal. The touching, human aspect of this story has the capacity to warm the hearts of all but the most cynical of movie-goers.”
So join us this Friday, June 12, 2009, for this rare glimpse at a lost art in 1930’s China, THE KING OF MASKS. It will be screened at the Center For Spiritual Learning, located at 206 N. J Street, on the corner of J and Division in Tacoma. Come around 6:00pm and mingle with many of us downstairs in the kitchen where we will be enjoying fellowship and a sumptuous entree prepared for us by the Phantom Director and Farishta. The meal will be served at 6:15pm. Take part in a fun Raffle if you chose to–the winners getting a cash prize (40% of the collected funds), or a DVD. Those who are so inclined feel free to bring along add-on goodies like bread, cheese, wine, dessert, or soft drinks. A short film will screen promptly at 7:00pm, and then we will hold the raffle, and introduce the main film–which will screen immediately. July will be the TFC vacation month, and we will only screen one film during the Summer Gathering and picnic, to be held at our meeting hall, 924 Broadway. See you at the movies!