Well, first off, the title of this one is more appropriately known as Song at Midnight, and the only instance of the reverse title used in the Book I could find was in the book itself, so I don’t know what happened there. That said, I don’t really know what was happening with this film at all. It had a vision, I could tell that, and director Ma-Xu Weibang was at the very least trying to implement it, but it seems that the technology and skill of filmmaking had yet to fully reach China; this is the earliest Chinese entry on the list, and it unfortunately shows. This is also regarded as China’s first horror film, which I don’t know if that should make it an automatic lock for a spot on the list. Still, there was something special to be found here, even if the film’s attempts ended up failing in their execution. And that’s if I could make out what was going on at all, with the quality of the print I watched.
The film is a loose adaptation of The Phantom of the Opera, using the story as more of an inspiration than an actual adaptation. A musical troupe finds their way to an old opera house, where their young singer (male, in this version) ends up meeting the mysterious Phantom, who aids him in developing his singing talents in order for him to perform an opera the Phantom has been writing. There’s also a subplot involving a romantic rival of the Phantom’s, who also ends up as a romantic rival for the young singer, that leads to the film’s climactic fight. What I noticed after a while of watching this one was that, despite the fact that its efforts towards storytelling and filmmaking didn’t really work all of the time, it was at least trying, and not just to be a film, but trying to be a really good film. Even through the awful quality, I could tell the film was attempting to have some fun and experimenting with lighting and camera shots, which I was appreciative of, even if the actual results were lost in the lousy transfer. Another aspect that totally did not work was the sped-up footage that comprised the film’s final fight sequence, which just seemed hokey and prematurely aged the film. The music was also an occasional source of confusion, and, even at times, comedy; when the main character first catches sight of the Phantom, for instance, the piano music immediately stumbled over itself, trying to elicit the emotion of horrified surprise, but it just got me to openly laugh out loud – it literally sounded as though a cat had tripped and fallen over the piano keys, trying to scramble back up on its feet and failing miserably. Just another funny anecdote that explains how the film tried as hard as it did, and ended up being mostly unsuccessful.
All in all, I did like what this one tried to be, but I couldn’t see enough of its vision in the finished product for me to really give it a good grade. Most of it was the fact that I might as well have been watching this in 1937, for all that the quality of the print I saw gave me; this is one badly in need of restoration, as I was not the only one to have trouble trying to find a halfway decent copy of this (and failing). Not to mention the subtitles looked like they had been translated from Chinese to some mysterious third language, and only then translated into English, and I had a very hard time keeping this one straight enough for me to find a quote for below the poster up there. If this does get restored, though, I will definitely give it another look; this was promising, even if it was somewhat inept at what it was trying to do.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10