(East-West Question·Character) Huang Shuqin: Does the female perspective make the world complete?
“China News Weekly” reporter Song Chundan
In April of this year, the famous director Huang Shuqin died of illness in Shanghai. As a female representative of the fourth generation of Chinese directors, Huang Shuqin once said that her greatest skill is not to speak. She does not speak, but always quietly sees and expresses the world through the perspective of a movie camera.
The perspective, she says, is like the orientation of a house. The mainstream perspective is like a south-facing window, which is spacious and bright, looking directly at the front of the garden and the road, which is what the Chinese value most; while the female perspective is the east window, where the sun shines first, and the garden and road seen are On the side, it is easier to see the meaning of the other half, another feeling, which will make the world complete.
Exploring the interpretation of Chinese works from a Western perspective
Huang Shuqin’s primary school is the No. 2 Chinese and Western Primary School on Yongjia Road, Shanghai. Because of her reticence and isolation, even if the teacher scare her with a needle, it is difficult for her to speak. Every day after school, she ran to the school gate, jumped on her parents’ bicycles, and rode to the “Lafei Theater” together. Her father, Huang Zuolin, who graduated from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, and her mother, Jin Yunzhi (stage name, Danny), who graduated from Columbia University in the United States, never forced her to obey the rules. The side curtain and the stage light area are not separated by a door and wall, but they are two completely different worlds. Huang Shuqin later recalled that this layer of experience of the stage in her childhood was probably the underlying emotion of her later filming of “People, Ghosts, Love”.
In high school, Huang Shuqin became obsessed with watching Soviet films, so she decided to apply for the directing department of the Beijing Film Academy. After two years of labor training in the countryside, Huang Shuqin was admitted to the 59th class of the North Electric Conductor of Hidden Dragon Crouching Tiger. Due to her restrained nature, she kept her head down all day in college. She is not good at words, but she is determined to use movies to express and speak her thoughts.
In 1964, Huang Shuqin graduated and was assigned to the Shanghai Film Studio, and it was not until 1981 that he really had the opportunity to be a director. “Long Live Youth” screenwriter Zhang Xian recalled that Huang Shuqin wanted to make this film into a youth film and a nostalgic film. In the context of that time, youth films mostly referred to some Western youth-themed films, and there were many derogatory meanings; nostalgic films were also considered to reflect decadence and decline, and Huang Shuqin was the first to dare to explicitly put forward this pursuit.
Writer Wang Meng (right) talks with director Huang Shuqin. The film “Long Live Youth” directed by Huang Shuqin is adapted from the novel of the same name by Wang Meng.China News AgencyPhoto by Puli
Huang Shuqin recalled that the high-spirited and idealistic life of young people in the 1950s shown in this film was not in line with the mainstream thought at that time. But no matter how people evaluate it, this is historical reality and cannot be erased.
When the film went to Beijing for trial, there were twists and turns; later, when it was previewed in Shanghai, the atmosphere was lively, the speakers were very excited, and Huang Shuqin couldn’t cry. Only then did Zhang Xian know that the unsmiling Huang Shuqin was a person with rich feelings, but he hid very deeply.
Find ways to express human nature from a female perspective
In 1987, Huang Shuqin directed “People, Ghosts, Love”, which was recognized as a Chinese women’s film when it was exhibited at the International Film Festival. Film scholar Dai Jinhua called it China’s first, and until then, the only female film. It is about expression and silence; it is about a woman’s real story and destiny, and it is also a metaphor for the historical destiny of women, especially modern women.
When preparing for the film, Huang Shuqin was caught in a strong desire to create. She wanted to make a good film. The so-called “good” is to be very prominent and able to express herself. She made up her mind to dig deep into people’s inner world and the unique cultural psychology of the nation. She and the creative team repeatedly screened each draft to select those scenes that best reflected the pain points of women in a patriarchal society.
In one scene, a girl named Qiu Yun went into a public toilet and was “pulled” out as a hooligan because she was dressed like a boy with her hairstyle. She argued that she was a woman, and the audience didn’t believe it, and laughed and asked her to “take off her pants to check”, and she burst into tears in anger and anxiety. The crowd scenes in this scene were rehearsed many times, because Huang Shuqin asked the group to show fierce expressions in order to reveal the true nature of the dark side of human nature.
She calls this human gloom “ghost energy”. She believes that jealousy, hurtful words, taking pleasure in bullying the weak, and shooting the first shot have a deep cultural background, which the film should focus on. This is the oppression of people in a closed society, not because of individual bad people.
In October 2021, the actor performing the Zhong Kui dance in Xiongcun waits for a performance outside the ancient city of Huizhou, Shexian County, Anhui Province.China News AgencyPhoto by reporter Du Yang
When she was writing the split-screen script, she wrote about a scene in which the young girl Qiu Yun was lying on a haystack after she practiced the exercises, and a boy with a bare bottom asked her curiously: “Are you dead?” She said angrily: ” Play with your eggs!” Writing this, she couldn’t help but proudly told her son Zheng Dasheng that she had written a good show today. After hearing this, her son laughed and said, “Feminism!” In fact, she didn’t understand feminism theory at all at the time, so she just felt happy to write it like this.
Huang Shixian, a professor at the Beijing Film Academy, called “People, Ghosts, Love” China’s “author’s film”, which grew out of ethnic soil, and Zhong Kui is China’s “Quasimodo”. He said: “Huang Shuqin found himself.”
From breaking through self to sticking to self
When Sun Xiongfei, a screenwriter of Shanghai Film Studio, invited Huang Shuqin to direct Qian Zhongshu’s “Besieged City”, her first reaction was: “Besieged City”, is it a war? In fact, most of their generation hadn’t heard of “Besieged City” at the time, but after reading the novel, she felt that she could guide it well.
Her parents were intellectuals who returned from studying abroad in the 1930s. Her father and Fang Hongjian in the novel returned to China in the same year and the same month. She understands this intellectual class. From her point of view, Fang Hongjian is by no means a playboy or a scammer, but a free-spirited intellectual.
There are 72 characters with surnames in “Besieged City”, Huang Shuqin calls them “Seventy-two sages”, and she requires actors to choose not to regret for decades. Many people in cultural circles, celebrities and even officials have come to play tricks.
Huang Shuqin once recalled in the article that the Stanislav system she learned in the past emphasized layer-by-layer analysis, and the lines in one sentence could not wait to analyze the history of three generations of revolutionary families. Replaced by show mode. When directing “Siege”, the unique charm of the original book forced her to change her previous approach from her creative mentality to her creative method.
Huang Shuqin said that at that time, he was using the method of filming to make a TV series. Now that the salary has increased 100 times, no one is willing to act. All of these make Huang Shuqin’s version of “Besieged City” an eternal classic.
The “Besieged City” released in 1990 was like a watershed. After that, the commercialization of movies came.
“Painted Soul” is a commercial blockbuster directed by Huang Shuqin. The film invested 2 million US dollars, unprecedented. Deputy director Shi Fenghe told reporters that the crew of “Painted Soul” is the most capable creative team of Shanghai Film Studio.
In December 2020, the exhibition “Yu Ru Yu Cheng – Pan Yuliang’s Artistic Life” was held at the Chengdu Museum. This exhibition showcases nearly 100 precious paintings that were painstakingly preserved by Pan Yuliang and transported back to China.China News AgencyPhoto by reporter An Yuan
Although “Painted Soul” received a good box office, Huang Shuqin left a lot of regrets. She said: “This is basically the way of commercial films, but it also wants to be artistic. In essence, these are contradictory, and they have not reached the extreme. At that time, there was no such experience and judgment ability. If you want to make a commercial film, you have to make a commercial film. Cultural films are cultural films. There is no ‘concurrent’, and this ‘conjunction’ will hurt both sides.” She later realized that commercial films should be created from a male perspective, and women’s films would not be mainstream in any society.
In 1999, “Shanghai Vicissitudes” was released and became director Huang Shuqin’s last film and television work. In an interview in the following years, she said that although the real creative time that fate gave her was very short, she was lucky enough to have such a decade. At that time, the social environment was better, and I was also in the age group of energetic and mature thinking. Now the market economy is a little bit more mature, but this era no longer belongs to her and her generation.
Zhang Jianya served as the director of the third studio of Shanghai Film Studio from 1986 to 1999. He told reporters that at that time, Shanghai Film Studio had women composed of Huang Shuqin, Shi Shujun, Wu Zhennian, Bao Zhifang, Shi Xiaohua, Sha Jie, Lu Ping, etc. director group. Shanghai Film Studio initially planned to train these female directors as assistant directors, but they all became excellent directors after training with famous directors such as Xie Jin, which was a landscape in the Chinese film circle at that time. Huang Shuqin is one of the best among them. She is particularly diligent, and she will try her best to seize every opportunity and bloom with results.
In 2008, Xie Jin (second from right) and Huang Shuqin (second from left) attended the launching ceremony of the “1/2008” public welfare short film in Shanghai.China News AgencyPhoto by reporter Pan Sophie
In this regard, Huang Shuqin has his own understanding. She said that in the 1980s, China produced a number of powerful female directors. First, before the “Cultural Revolution”, the director department of the Beijing Film Academy recruited five girls every year. These people became the climate at that time. More importantly, There is an illusion of equality under the conditions of “big pot rice”, which will no longer exist under the conditions of a market economy. After commercialization, female directors will be relatively weak. “I don’t reject commerciality, but I don’t have commerciality,” she said. (End)
Huang Shuqin.Photo courtesy of the interviewee