I was originally going to lump the cinema of Hong Kong in with the cinema of China and after a little research, it’s pretty evident that both industries have grown at completely different paces. So today’s 31 Days of Horror is going to focus solely on mainland China. I’s get to Hong Kong when I reach the H’s.
China’s film industry started off early and strong but has been influenced by its government over the years for better or for worse. As a result of the strict government control and guidelines, there haven’t been many horror movies until recently. And the horror movies that get made are, well, pretty weak. The current regulations set by the government restrict a lot of what can happen in a horror movie.
For example, the elements prohibited in Chinese mainland films are:
- Publicizing feudal superstition and disturbing social public order;
- Dramatizing murder and violence, encouraging people to ignore the dignity of the law and suggesting crimes;
- Defaming and insulting people.
Things that must be cut or altered:
- Obscene and vulgar content that violates moral standards and public taste;
- Language and dialogue in bad taste;
- Vulgar and tasteless background music and sound effects;
- Detailed descriptions of crimes that might encourage others to imitate them;
- Provocative scenes of murder, drug abuse or gambling;
- Descriptions of absurd, cruel and violent actions against others;
- Plots that positively describe the omnipotence and fervor of religions.
So Chinese horror films can’t be gory, filled with murder and mayhem and there can be absolutely no ghosts unless it’s evident that the ghost is really a real person because ghosts don’t exist. That doesn’t mean that an awesome horror movie can’t get made under those conditions and several low budget films have attempted to fill the demand that has grown exponentially over the last couple of years. It just means most of the filmmakers would rather make something else than try and work within the system.
But there is a demand in China for horror movies. The Final Destination films are quite popular there but output of Chinese-made horror is a little low at the moment.
So today’s horror film is one of China’s first horror films. Song at Midnight was made in 1937 by director Weibang Ma-Xu. The movie is essentially a re-imagining of Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera.
Shan Jin stars as a disfigured opera singer who has taken a young male singer under his wing. Shan Jin was disfigured when he got into a fight with the father of the woman that he loved. He pretends to be dead to her and then sends the young opera singer to her pretending to be the disfigured opera singer reborn. He then goes after the man who ruined his face.
The film isn’t a exact copy of the Phantom of the Opera. The main character is a little more sympathetic and he doesn’t try to kill anyone except the man who wronged him. That doesn’t stop a mob with pitchforks and torches to chase after him. The pacing is a little slow at times and seems to take breaks for the singing scenes but the overall feel of the film is reminiscent of Universal’s horror films that were made around the same time. Still a good movie that spawned a sequel in 1941 and was remade in the 1960s and in the ’80s.