Peking Opera Blues

dir. Tsui Hark

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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Tsui Hark made his first masterpiece with this much-loved comedy-action-political thriller about a cross-dressing general's daughter (the iconic Brigitte Lin) battling government corruption in 1913 Beijing.


"A satire on the Chinese ignorance of democracy," as Tsui Hark provocatively described his first real masterpiece, the much-loved comedy-action-political thriller Peking Opera Blues sees the director's signature manic style hitting an early peak, perfecting the mongrel, masala-like form that Hark had been developing in his previous films (most notably in Peking's similarly named predecessor Shanghai Blues). In one of the most famous performances in Chinese cinema history, the magnificent Brigitte Lin sports a close-cropped haircut and tight-fitting military garb as a cross-dressing general's daughter in 1913 Beijing, who joins forces with a fortune hunter (Cherie Chung) and the daughter of a Peking opera impresario (Sally Yeh) as part of her plot to overthrow the corrupt regime of Yuan Shikai, the first president of Republican China. Tsui loves overthrowing conventions, and innocent flirtation in cross-dressing operas is one of those sacred cows; here, the lesbian subtext bobs to the surface unexpectedly and with great charm. "A speed-crazed riff on what happens when a spy melodrama meets a backstage comedy: Feydeau with blood at 150 beats per minute" (Tony Rayns, Time Out London).