The Red Detachment of Women
Director: Xie Jin (1961)
When former US President Richard Nixon visited China in February 1972 in a breakthrough for Sino-US relations, he was invited to watch a "red ballet" called The Red Detachment of Women. The president was so amazed at the women soldiers dancing on their toes that he "forgot" the ballet was a paean of a communist-led army.
Thirty-four years have passed and the ballet remains evergreen on the stage. The elder generation admires its heroism and collectivism while younger generation loves its "violence plus sex." It is also well received overseas.
However, the ballet was not an original; it was adapted from a feature film of the same name produced in 1961.
The film The Red Detachment of Women is set on southern China's Hainan Island during the Second Civil War between the Chinese Communist Party and the Kuomintang (1927-1937). Wu Qionghua, a maidservant, cannot bear the torture of Nan Batian, a local despot. Several times she tries to escape the Nan family and several times she is seized and beaten black and blue. Later she is "bought" by Hong Changqing, head of the women's detachment, who disguises himself as a rich foreign merchant. Guided by Hong, the maidservant later joins in the revolution and fights evil people like Nan.
With legendary plots, beautiful scenes and an inspiring theme song, the film created a great sensation when it was shown nationwide in 1961. In the following year, the film won the best feature film prize at the First Hundred Flowers Awards. Xie Jin was honored as best director. Zhu Xijuan (playing Wu Qionghua) was named as best actress and Chen Qiang (playing Nan Batian) as best supporting actor. The film also won prizes at several international film festivals.
Red Detachment is one of the masterpieces of Xie, known as a "banner" of the third-generation film directors. His representative works include Stage Sisters (1964), The Herdsman (1982) and Hibiscus Town (1986). Before shooting The Red Detachment of Women, Xie headed the production crew to "observe life" on Hainan Island and interviewed some former soldiers of the women's detachment. Xie meant to "spice" the film with a romance between heroine Wu and her leader Hong. Due to various political restrictions, he gave up his plan.
Red Detachment helped actress Zhu Xijuan establish a reputation overnight. As a new graduate from the Shanghai Drama Institute, she was lucky to be chosen by Xie to star in his film. The Red Detachment of Women seemed to be the "climax" of Zhu's performing career. After that, she had no opportunities to star in a film better than her maiden work. In 1983, Zhu took over a TV station in Shenzhen.
(China Daily July 3, 2006)