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Recap: Seeing China Through Film: Two Stage Sisters, 8.4.21

Recap: Seeing China Through Film: Two Stage Sisters, 8.4.21

China Institute’s Summer series Seeing China Through Film, explored modern China through the country’s iconic films of the 1920’s-1960’s. For our fourth and final installment of the initial film selections, we explored Two Stage Sisters, a film that was initially banned for its depiction of old China. In many ways, the picture is the summation of the cinematic style that began in Shanghai in the 1930s: brilliant use of space, powerful camera movement, and a story that follows the conflicting, contradictory fates of its protagonists. Two Stage Sisters is also a perceptive meditation on Chinese opera itself, chronicling changes in style and their relation to shifting notions of the role of art.

The program featured Richard Peña, Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, as the expert on hand for this final conversation.

Movie Synopsis:

In 1935, a runaway bride hides out with a traveling Xiaoxing opera troupe; after allowing her to stay, the company trains her and soon she is taking on the dan roles while her “sister” takes on the sheng male roles. Soon the two move on to Shanghai, where they become hailed as the “queens” of the opera world. But as they learn, such success comes with a price, and each sister must decide how to manage her art and her life—as China navigates through WWII, then the Civil War, and finally the victory of the Communist Party.

Speaker Bio:

Richard Peña is a Professor of Film Studies at Columbia University, where he specializes in film theory and international cinema. From 1988 to 2012, he was the Program Director of the Film Society of Lincoln Center and the Director of the New York Film Festival. A frequent lecturer on film internationally, in 2014-2015 he was a Visiting Professor in Brazilian Studies at Princeton, and in 2015-2016 a Visiting Professor in Film Studies at Harvard. In May, 2016, he was the recipient of the “Cathedra Bergman” at the UNAM in Mexico City, He currently hosts WNET/Channel 13’s weekly Reel 13.

Full Video of the Panel Talk:

Movie Discussed and Viewing Links:

Two Stage Sisters, 舞台姐妹, 1964
Director: Xie Jin, PRC, 114 minutes.
Mandarin, with English subtitles.


Additional episodes in the Seeing China Through Film Series and other Arts & Culture programs:


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