First martial arts Peking Opera film hits big screen

By Zhang Rui
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, September 26, 2020
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The iconic Monkey King returns to the big screen, but this time he is acting in a traditional but fresh way in a Peking Opera movie titled "Havoc in Heaven."

A poster of "Havoc in Heaven" [Photo courtesy of Fujian Film Studio]

This film is the only martial arts Peking Opera production that is a part of China's key cultural initiative, the "Peking Opera Film" project, which records the imagery of traditional Chinese cultural treasures. Since July 2011, artists and experts from the opera and film industries have promoted the project and made more than 12 films based on the traditional Chinese art form.

"Havoc in Heaven," adapted from the earliest chapters of the Monkey King legend in the ancient Chinese fantasy classic "Journey to the West" written by author Wu Cheng'en, tells how Sun Wukong, a.k.a. the Monkey King, rebels against the Jade Emperor of Heaven. The opera film is based on an opera script by famous opera playwright Weng Ouhong with stage styles from opera master Li Shaochun.

The entire production is full of opera kung fu fight scenes, especially in the second half of the film. The filmmakers also added special effects produced by modern film technologies to enhance the overall effect.

"Havoc in Heaven" was directed by Cheng Lu, produced by Fujian Film Studio, and shot by the Fujian Peking Opera Theater. The role of the Monkey King is played by four opera actors. More than 100 actors and 35 martial artists from 11 Peking Opera troupes and art academies participated in the filming process. Heavyweight martial arts masters and opera experts also provided suggestions and guidance. 

Cheng Lu, born into a family of Peking Opera, said that the reason the film combines traditional Chinese opera and modern film technologies is to cleverly install the abstract cultural images into the carrier of film, allowing the audience to enjoy and learn this traditional culture from a new perspective. "They will appreciate the profound arts of Peking Opera while enjoying the stunning effects brought by modern film technologies," he said.

A behind-the-scenes photo shows "Havoc in Heaven" in the making. [Photo courtesy of Fujian Film Studio]

The Monkey King opera film is the first of the second batch of films that are part of the "Peking Opera Film" project. In the first batch, 10 Peking Opera films were made, including "Farewell My Concubine," "Dragon and the Phoenix Bringing Prosperity," "Qin Xianglian," and "Lady General Mu Takes Command."

"Havoc in Heaven" has hit Chinese screens in limited release since Sept. 18. Its distributors are planning to push it to a wider audience and show the film at upcoming domestic and foreign film festivals. 

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