Never did I think I would ever watch a Chinese film that’s basically a self-parody of Chinese films. I’ve used the phrase “on the nose” before to describe how a film is so up-front and blatant in what it is trying to do that it comes across as groan-worthy, but Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues takes it to a whole other level, and it’s a damn fine surprise that it would turn out to be so entertaining. The film knows exactly what it’s doing when it is so cringe-worthingly obvious with all of its tropes and stylistic decisions, and from what I could tell, that was exactly the point; the film is essentially making fun of films exactly like itself, and thus it comes across as highly humorous instead of making you want to facepalm. Then again, this could be trying to play it completely straight, and just gets it as hilariously inept as The Room, but I find that incredibly hard to believe, and like some other films I could mention, this just works better if you imagine it as a parody.
The film is a threefold story, focusing on three central characters; all women. One is the daughter of a general, and is intentionally mistaken for a guy so she can keep her cover as a rebel, another is a woman who spends the film trying to recover a lost box of stolen jewels, and the last is the daughter of the manager of a Peking Opera, who is trying to be given her chance on the stage instead of being forced to hang back and let the men have all the roles. Eventually, their storylines intersect, and they are all caught up in the rebel efforts to gain important documents the general wants to keep hidden. Besides the story, which was surprisingly engaging, this film has a little of everything to offer in a big ol’ mash-up of genres and action pieces. There’s some wire-fu action, some highly dramatic scenes, a little romantic subtext, and good old martial arts and stunts to keep people happy. And it all was very professionally done; not what I’d expect from one of the harder to find films on the list. Indeed, I think this should definitely be more widely seen than it is; I don’t know what editions are out on DVD or Blu-Ray (if any), but this one definitely deserves some word-of-mouth.
Quentin Tarantino has gone on record saying how much he loved Peking Opera Blues, and how it has inevitably influenced his films, and it’s easy to see why. This feels like a comical take on the type and style of film that Tarantino would make his own with Kill Bill. The parody elements all but dissolved away by the end, though they were still there if you looked hard enough, and the film knew when to play around and when to take it seriously. Nice, surprising little action-drama piece, with maybe a few laughs thrown in (definitely more if you watch it to make fun of all the obvious tropes). I haven’t seen the other Hark films on the list, but I’ll be looking forward to them. I’d give this one a whirl if I were you.
Arbitrary Rating: 8/10