Two Stage Sisters vs. Hollywood

Two Stage Sisters made in 1965 draws upon and sometimes alters conventional structure of 1940s Hollywood film. Previous to 1949, when Mao Tse Tung and the communist party took over China, relations to America were more open or at least more commercial thus allowing exposure to contemporary Hollywood movies. These movies made such an impact on the Chinese expectations of film that twenty years later, after the Communists had crippled the availability of post-1949 Hollywood movies, that Chinese film makers were still echoing Hollywood. Cinematic melodrama in Hollywood always dealt with angst ridden character types and their struggle to overcome successively more difficult complications. Hollywood had a different political message than Chinese cinema even though the same tools were used. Hollywood tended to offer parables of individuality and personal effort as the keys to the success of the nation whereas Chinese cinema hinged success upon selflessness and teamwork.

At the beginning of Two Stage Sisters Chun-Hua, a working class runaway has stowed away with a travelling Peking style Opera and is taken mercy upon by Yue-Hong and her kindly old father. A grumpy comic relief stage manager as the first antagonist of the film. The set up already sounds like a formula Hollywood movie ( perhaps a Preston Sturgess movie) with archetypical Hollywood characters. Complications arise as the daughter is brutally punished for refusing advances from a village boss; the father dies; and the grumpy manager turns greedy, disbanding the company in favor of taking the two talented girls to Shanghai to contract out to a company. At this point the abrupt plot turns reveals an awkwardness in dealing with Hollywood genres and becomes a tragedy.

Having arrived in Shanghai, our characters turn into Ma and Pa Kettle, who deal with urban society very naively but with awe. The sisters try to stick together for strength but the temptations of the city seduce Yue-Hong away. A Hollywood audience would expect the complications for the duration of the movie to remain based on the reuniting of the sisters within the theater. However, the Chinese film industry wants that schism to be deeper, the city to look more evil, and the threat of capitalism more eminent. In short, the Chinese want a very moralistic sort of movie.


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