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Year: 2005
USA: Shadow Distribution
Cast: Xue Qinghua, Tong Xiangling, Zhang Nanyun, Jin Yong Qing, Zhao Wei, Huang Xiao Tong, Xu Yi Hui
Director: Yan Ting Yuen
Country: The Netherlands
Language: Mandarin (English subtitles)
USA: 90 mins
USA Release Date: 29 March 2006 (Limited Release - New York)
US Distributor
(Film Forum)


History changes all the time. What is good today can be considered bad tomorrow. During the ten years of Cultural Revolution, traditional opera was banned by Mao's wife Jiang Qing, and replaced by a new kind of art in which the world was presented in a much simpler way: all the good guys were farmers and revolutionary soldiers, always singing and dancing in the broad spotlight. All the bad guys were landlords and anti revolutionaries, who wore dark make-up and were poorly lit. Pure propaganda told in beautiful images and stories, in an innovative way incorporating the most modern techniques of cinematography, song, and dance, thus becoming a new art form in Chinese culture: Revolutionary model opera - the Yang Ban Xi.

More than 13 were created, but 8 of these carefully crafted model works were most popular and went into history as 'the 8 Model works'. They were filmed in bright Technicolor and Scope, and were the only kind of entertainment allowed in the theatres, on television and radio. Their influence was beyond measurement. The main performing characters became instant stars, revered in every household. Then, the storm of the Cultural Revolution subsided. Jiang Qing was convicted as member of the Gang of Four, accepted scapegoats for everything that went wrong during the revolution. Intertwined with Jiang Qing, the propaganda operas spun into a downfall, reviled as despicable art for a long period.

The rise and fall of the propaganda opera is reflected by those who performed in it. Ten years of unimaginable fame, after which some were left to a destiny of sweeping stage floors. All of them have one thing in common: whatever happened to them afterwards, they all look back at the propaganda operas as a stressful, but great time of their lives, a time in which they actually believed, desperately wanted to believe, that Mao and his communist party held the key to a righteous world with equal opportunities for every person. However, history can be rewritten. Nowadays the Yang Ban Xi's have regained popularity and are performed for delighted audiences consisting of the now middle-aged Chinese who were teenagers during the heyday of the propaganda opera, taking along their children to watch.

The story of the 8 model works is told us in Yang Ban Xi by the imagined voice of Jiang Qing, whose subjective point of view questions the notions of good and bad, and builds up the dramatic intensity of this piece of Chinese history. As a matter of fact, the 8 model works are an undeniable phenomenon in Chinese history, a history that can be easily moulded in the hands of those with power. What is true and what is false, what is reality and what is propaganda? The dust, drenched in blood, raised by the Cultural Revolution seems to have subsided. Now the ordinary Chinese citizen can decide for him or herself what to forget, but also what to remember from that period. In addition, if there is anything to remember, why not those cheerful, happy, colourful, campy and nowadays, even hip Yang Ban Xi's, a most marvellous mixture of high and low culture?

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