Xixiang ji / Romance of the Western Chamber

Xixiang ji / Romance of the Western Chamber (1927)

Yes, adding naval battles makes any film more interesting

Director: Yao Hou, Li Minwei
Writers: Wang Shifu (original play), Yao Hou (adaptation)
Date: 1927

Genre: Love Story
Description: Love story, scholar dupes the bandits, calling reinforcements, proving one’s worth

Cast: Ge Cejiang, Hu Chichang, Lam Cho-cho, Li Dandan, Zhu Yaoting

Crew of note:

Runtime: 50 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia: Based on the famous play by Wang Shifu, written during the Yuan dynasty

summary
Zhang is a young scholar who enters a temple to learn. He meets Yingying, a girl who is famous for her beauty, and they quickly form a bond. Love at first sight and all that cheezy stuff. Unlucky for them, because Sun, a ruthless bandit leader, is outside with a master plan to kidnap Yingying and make her his wife (or worse!). Trapped between a bandit attack and a mother unwilling to marry her daughter off, Zhang must find a way to defeat the horde and prove himself worthy of Yingying’s hand in marriage.

review
Although based on the famous play, I was expecting it to be a boring romance since all the naughtybits would have to be omitted. Another drama from the silent era, yawn yawn.

It was a pleasant surprise that this was, in fact, closer to an action-comedy movie than a cheezy love story. Yes, of course the love story between Zhang and Yingying remains the center of the movie, but there is enough action, witty dialogue and odd circumstances to keep things interesting. The elaborate battle sequences, with complete period armor and weapons, is very well coordinated for 1927, if a little redundant. They really went all out to complete this period piece, and Yao and Li are able to recreate the Tang dynasty effectively with their sets.

The story itself is quite simple: Zhang must win Yingying’s hand in marriage. However, he isn’t Superman or Brad Pitt, so he must use what he has to save the day. No, he isn’t secretly a kung fu master, and he doesn’t suddenly know how to throw kame-hame-ha’s. He just uses his brain and calligraphy brush and finds a simple solution. Just like the story: simple yet effective. Probably a good lesson for 1927 too: even nerds can get hot chicks.

conclusion
There is nothing too specific to recommend about this film, other than the fact that it’s good. Great sets, great costumes, and a good adaptation that follows the original’s story while making it interesting for audiences of the time, and even today. If you can find this film, watch it. We’re lucky it survived.

things to take note of
The intertitles, I guess
Great costumes and gear

best moment
The raid on the temple
The weirdest duel in history

why you should watch this
A GIANT MOPIT/CALLIGRAPHY BRUSH!
Interesting fight sequence, one of the few you’ll see (or find relatively easily) from this era
Old movies are always interesting

rating: 7.8

scorecard
Plot: C+ (based on a classic, but the movie’s too short)
Cast: C+
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B+

similar movies, maybe:
For films in the same era, I’m not quite sure. But this film is one of the great-great-grandads of wuxiapian, I think, sharing similarities with King Hu’s influential “A Touch of Zen” and other romanticky action flicks, and all the way up to the “Hero”s and “House of Flying Daggers”es of recent times. No wire-fu yet, of course.

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