Sounding the Modern Woman: The Songstress in Chinese Cinema
Jean Ma is Associate Professor of Art and Art History at Stanford University. She is the author of Melancholy Drift: Marking Time in Chinese Cinema, and coeditor of Moving: Between Cinema and Photography, also published by Duke University Press.
Carmen, Camille, and the Undoing of Women
This chapter takes a single film as its starting point: The Wild, Wild Rose (1960), a Mandarin musical inspired by the music and plot of Bizet’s opera Carmen. The film’s portrayal of its songstress amalgamates two very different iconic fictional personas, the fiery temptress Carmen, and the self-sacrificing courtesan Camille, from The Lady of the Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils. The film’s citational strategies are rooted in a history of adaptation, translation, and hybridizing exchanges extending back to the early twentieth century, and formative of a tradition of popular sentimental fiction. The film serve as a case study for tracking the ways in which this tradition passed from the printed page to the screen and consequently generated a distinctive strand of Chinese film melodrama. Chinese musicals developed in the orbit of this melodramatic mode, and the songstress points to dialogic interactions between cinema, literature, theater, and opera.