The two movies seem to represent considerable dynamic within the scope of the Chinese film industry. It might be stated that both Stage Sisters and Yellow Earth were produced significantly, given the fact that they creatively depict a plethora of societal and cultural aspects and the directors’ ideas. The mentioned pictures might be perceived as notable examples of Chinese film productions – despite the fact that they were filmed with a 20-year difference, these movies made a substantial impact on the industry. Below, the essentials of Stage Sisters and Yellow Earth will be discussed with an emphasis on their similarities and differences, as well as personal reflection on which of these films may be preferable will be provided.
Stage Sisters might be defined as a narration about two women who are involved in Yue Opera. The story of the troupe shows how these female characters make a decision to arrange their lives in their own way. In turn, Yellow Earth is founded on the love plotline that takes place within the relations of a soldier and a girl with peasant roots. At this point, it should be noticed that these films have much in common.
The movies being discussed are similar in the framework of the developments of their main characters. The directors of these films tried to create determined and strong protagonists. The utilization of “mighty” female roles in both pictures seems apparent through the lens of the plots. In Stage Sisters, the producers embodied the characteristics of a decisive woman in Chunhua. She is concentrated on the achievement of her goals and does not want to compromise her high – and even noble – principles. Chunhua’s boldness is shown through her decision-making; for instance, when she stands against irrelevant and false accusations in court. Such traits are also shown when she starts to perform operas of the revolution’s thematic that stress her willingness to advocate and struggle for the revolutionary ideas against a society dominated by males.
Kaige also blossomed out in terms of presenting resolute protagonists – for example, Qiao. The latter is a girl with peasant roots and is forced to get married to an elderly man due to the solid impact of traditions. After she figures out that there is the opportunity to be set free from these marriage chains by joining the Chinese Communist Party, she begins the struggle for her rights. The provided examples allow assuming that both these movies utilize the resolute protagonists in order to deliver the primary ideas.
Moreover, there are some similarities within the scope of the acting style that is used in the films. The characters’ actions of both Stage Sisters and Yellow Earth involve the capability of withstanding unfavorable conditions in the aspiration to attain the desired aims. The two abovementioned characters strive to struggle against inequity that exists in the fundamental cultural norms that oppress many people. Thus, it might be suggested that the movies are quite similar in this regard. What is more, both films are based on a similar cinematic style. They have sad finals, which indicates the depiction of a tragedy. Such an approach allows assuming that the directors were guided by similar principles in this vein. In particular, repetition occurs many times in both Stage Sisters and Yellow Earth. It helped the directors to prolongate the protagonists’ voyage into their future, providing the viewers with the opportunity to distinguish the geographical scope of the characters’ struggle for freedom. Every time these characters n about their experience, they repeat their expressions to deliver their message and depict the scale of the obstacles to be overcome.
Nevertheless, there are some differences between the movies regarding their themes. In Two Sisters, the director presented the issues of betrayal (of one sister by another), resoluteness (sisters’ willingness to attain their aims), and the problems of insignificant societal order (briberies and betrayals) (Marchetti 105). In turn, Yellow Earth presents the issues of discrimination against females in a masculine-dominated society, disappointment (in terms of the protagonist’s plotline), and the revolution against the established political order (Yau 31).
Finally, it should be stated that Mao Zedong and his doctrine impacted both films to a substantial extent. During his revolutionary campaigns, film production started to be the standard on which the measurement of art and culture against realness was conducted (Zedong). Zedong’s revolutionary vision served as a foundation for creating plots that would inform people during periods of gloom, as well as secularism. Hence, both movies were influenced by this state of affairs, given their great emphasis on the struggle for freedom, rights, and equality.
I would also mention that I prefer the film Yellow Earth if to choose between it and Stage Sisters. A sad, strange, and quite an ordinary plot is impressive, but, of course, in such films, it is not more important. Kaige’s main goal was to tell the story through an image and not through words. Here, his cinematography and style manifested themselves, which he will further develop with each film. There are almost no dialogues in the Yellow Earth. A couple of central ones, move the plot and making it clear the general meaning, but they only complement and clarify the picture. Shaanxi’s desert landscapes and poor peasant dwellings can hardly be called amazing or impressive – few tourists want to see them, but the producers managed to make them so (Yau 29). They simultaneously convey the depressing atmosphere of the picture and capture their unusual beauty. The moon over the hills, an uneven field on a steep slope, a road winding between the dunes – a lot of camera talent is needed to convey their beauty in the frame. For Kaige, of course, it was a little easier – he was born and raised in this landscape.
Another way of storytelling is music. Actually, the whole plot revolves around the songs. They are different – solemn wedding, depressing about the female share, vigorous communist. Although for an unprepared European viewer, Chinese music will seem strange or even unpleasant. However, the old peasant himself says in the film Yellow Earth that all their songs are sad because one cannot sing about fun in such an environment.
In addition to a new way of making films, Kaige, of course, took a fresh look at the very problem of peasant life. The whole Yellow Earth, especially the last scene in which the weeping crowd begs the dragon idol to give them rain, is a great metaphor for the disillusionment of the peasants with the hopes that the communists instilled in their souls. The authors knew about the difficult conditions of the existence of the Chinese village firsthand. They had to live and work there a lot, and it is not surprising that in their debut work, they touched upon this, one of the most important to this day, the problem of the Celestial Empire.
Marchetti, Gina. “Two-Stage Sisters: The Blossoming of a Revolutionary Aesthetic.” Jump Cut, no. 34, 1989, pp. 95–106.
Yau, Esther C. M. “‘Yellow Earth’: Western Analysis and a Non-Western Text.” Film Quarterly, vol. 41, no. 2, 1987, pp. 22–33.
Zedong, Mao. “32. Culture and Art.” Marxists.org. Web.