review for Peking Opera Blues on AllMovie

Peking Opera Blues (1986)
by Josh Ralske review

Peking Opera Blues is a cinematic explosion of humor and action. The work of producer/director Tsui Hark drew worldwide attention to Hong Kong cinema in the late '80s. As a producer and/or director, Tsui was responsible for the Chinese Ghost Story trilogy, the Swordsman series, the Once Upon a Time in China series, and John Woo's A Better Tomorrow, but Peking Opera Blues was the first of his films to reach a Western arthouse audience. The exuberantly colorful film portrays three women who find themselves involved in a democratic revolution, fighting the warlords of China in 1913. During the opening credits, opera performers in flamboyant facial makeup and elaborate costumes laugh maniacally into the camera. Thus, Hark sets the tone for his wonderfully chaotic and comic film, which seamlessly mixes theatrical farce with martial arts and drama. Hark has always featured strong, fully drawn female characters in prominent roles in his films. Peking Opera Blues features three such women. Bridget Lin, a Hark staple, is superb, as usual, as the sexually ambivalent general's daughter, Tsao Wan. In all her cross-dressing splendor, she strikes just the right note of righteous fortitude, but she also touchingly portrays Wan's anguish over betraying her father's trust. Sally Yeh is equally fine as Pat Neil, embodying the young woman's steely determination to take the stage, with her physical grace and her keen sense of fair play. Cherie Chung delivers the broadest, most charmingly clownish performance of the three as the greedy musician, Sheung Hung. The plot is difficult to follow, and the English subtitles can be distractingly garbled. Nevertheless, Hark strikes a perfect balance between theatricality and emotional honesty, and he's created a work that is wildly entertaining, with serious undertones that make it linger in the memory. Peking Opera Blues is a modern classic of Hong Kong cinema.