Maker of new film on Peking Opera targets younger audience

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Peking Opera artists Shang Changrong (right) and Yan Xingpeng reprise their roles in the movie version of Cao Cao and Yang Xiu. [Photo provided to China Daily]

When Peking Opera piece Cao Cao and Yang Xiu premiered at Tianjin People's Theater in 1988, it caused a sensation, thanks to top artists Shang Changrong and Yan Xingpeng's engaging performances.

But those who did not see that play have a chance to do so now, as Shang, 79, the first winner of Plum Performance Big Award, China's top honor for stage opera artists, and Yan, 65, who is settled in the United States, have reprised their roles for the big screen.

The 3D panoramic sound film, with the same title as the opera, opened across China on Aug 30 with English subtitles.

The opera is based on a story from the 14th century novel Romance of The Three Kingdoms and is about the conflicts between Cao, a suspicious warlord, and his strategist Yang. And in the story, Yang is executed by Cao.

The movie, which was first screened at the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival in June, received lots of praise, including from actors Pu Cunxin and Hu Ge.

The film is more than the re-enacting of a stage show as the 3D format provides an immersive effect.

In the first sequences of the movie where you see Cao's forces, viewers wearing 3D glasses can see weapons hurtling toward them.

For director Teng Junjie, a veteran who directed the opening and closing ceremonies of the Shanghai World Expo in 2010, Cao Cao and Yang Xiu is his third effort at cinematically remaking classic Peking Opera pieces.

Teng's Farewell My Concubine: The Peking Opera, the first film in China to capture the centuries-old art form using 3D photography, won the Golden Lumiere Award in Los Angeles in 2015.

"I felt thrilled to receive the honor. James Cameron's Avatar and Ang Lee's Life of Pi took home the same awards," Teng says.

Farewell My Concubine made its overseas debut at the Dolby Theater in Hollywood on May 30, 2014, attracting more than 1,100 viewers, including around 50 members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

"The theater is known for hosting the Oscars' ceremonies. I was so excited to see my first Peking Opera film welcomed there," says Teng.

In the following two years, Farewell My Concubine toured more than 10 countries and regions, including France, the United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Italy.

The film is about a warlord who would rather commit suicide than surrender.

Asked about what motivated him to make his latest film, Teng, who is also a visiting professor at the Communication University of China in Beijing and Tongji University in Shanghai, says it was the responses of his students.

When asked what would make them want to see Peking Opera - one of China's best-known performing arts, which has struggled to gain audiences in recent decades - they said they would be willing to watch films where they can see the actors' emotion and gestures.

With a budget of around 7.5 million yuan ($1.1 million), the crew shot the film in 3D and 2D versions as well as a 75-minute documentary about the production.

More than 1,700 cinemas, or nearly 18 percent of the country's total of 9,500 theaters, are scheduled to release the movie, an unprecedented scale for a stage opera movie.

"The figure is very encouraging. We hope the film will not only raise interest domestically, but also teach foreigners about Peking Opera," says Teng.

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