Film adaptations aim to boost interest in Peking Opera

In recent years, more and more operas have come into the sight of a wider audience in the form of films. For instance, Peking Opera, or Jingju, is one such genre that has gained an increasing presence in movies.

During the 14th Beijing International Film Festival that kicks off on Thursday, a total of 18 classic Peking Opera films are scheduled to meet moviegoers at the China National Film Museum, including “The Mouth of Jiujiang River” which will debut on Friday.

A poster for the Peking Opera film”The Mouth of Jiujiang River,” which is due to be released at the China National Film Museum on Friday, April 19, 2024. /Photo provided to CGTN

A poster for the Peking Opera film”The Mouth of Jiujiang River,” which is due to be released at the China National Film Museum on Friday, April 19, 2024. /Photo provided to CGTN

This collection of Peking Opera films has been promoted with new cinematic entries as part of a special project launched in 2011 to celebrate and document this traditional Chinese art form, which was declared Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO a year earlier.

Renowned Peking Opera artist Li Weikang told a press conference that opera stage directors and filmmakers have been working closely to develop groundbreaking innovations to better engage audiences with the charm of this traditional art, and these new releases all represent the latest developments and refinements.

She also called for more cinematic releases nationwide to help develop understanding and enthusiasm among young people for Peking Opera. “This is a project for the public good,” added Li, who also works with a team of experts to oversee the ongoing process of integration.

Peking Opera movies have all been adapted from classic Chinese Peking Opera shows, including “Farewell My Concubine,””Havoc in Heaven,”“The Gathering of Heroes: Borrowing the East Wind,” “The Story of Jade Bracelet,” and “The Mouth of Jiujiang River.”

Zhang Guanzheng is the artistic director for a production of “The Mouth of Jiujiang River.” While believing it’s an innovative development of traditional Chinese culture, Zhang also admits that many challenges lie ahead in this process of creative transformation. “For instance, opera artists on stage usually communicate emotions to audience members in a gradual manner. During the filming process however, they have to quickly change into characters and often have little time to lose in showing explosive emotion,”Zhang said, sharing his observations.

In fact, the genre is no stranger to Chinese cinema; the first Chinese film, “Dingjun Mountain,” released in 1905, featured an excerpt from Peking Opera. But with the advent of more diverse forms of entertainment, Peking Opera films began to fade from the public eye.  

In order to carry on and promote Peking Opera while preserving its cultural traditions, an exhibition of Peking Opera films is being held at the China National Film Museum from April 16 to May 5, where film posters, stills and behind-the-scenes stories are on display to offer visitors insight into the development of Chinese films and Peking Opera over the past decade in an engaging format.