What does an ordinary Chinese think about the five films selected for showing on the projected Chinese film tour of the United States? Twenty-four men and women from central China, generally from provincial towns , were asked to rate the five. The group, ranging in age from 27 to 40, some Communist Party members, most not, reported enthusiastically, about all the selections. With five exceptions involving three films, all had seen them all -- the Chinese are avid moviegoers, like Americans in the '30s.
All praised the photography, directing, and acting. The three taking top honors were all made before 1966, when the Cultural Revolution began and "politics took command." Here's a sampling of their comments on several films:
"Qing Chun Zhi Ge" ("Song of Youth") was by far the most popular. Ten called it the best of the five and nine ranked it second, while the five others put it fourth.
Concerned with the groping of university students -- all upper-class youth -- for some means of stopping the seemingly inevitable downward drift of China, "It offers a vivid picture of the young people of the '20s and '30s. They advocated freedom, equality, and fraternal love. These were the slogans of the democratic revolution, but they came to naught in China."
Based on a novel by a woman writer, Yang Mor, the film depicts these "progressive" youth, their suffering, their happiness, and their revolutionary activities (against a rigidly formal, chauvinistic, old society and the social evils this play associated it).
"Wu Tai Jie Mei" ("Two Stage Sisters," or "Two Actresses") describes the loves of two opera stars both as impoverished roadshow novices and popular Shanghai stars. The effects of the differing social attitudes of these foster sisters, who lived astride the cultural divide between the past and present regimes, provides the thrust of the story.
Chinese opera is a many-faceted art style. Here one gains an unusual dimension. It ranked high in popularity, with 7 votes each for first and second places, followed by 4, 3, and 1, respectively.
"Liu San Jie" ("The Third Sister Line") "is marvelous," "wonderful," and "left a deep impression on me." It is more light than serious opera and was based on an old legend about a lovely young folk singer from today's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in southern China. Picturesque portrayal of the work and the life of one of China's minority peoples is coupled with praise for the folk singer, who is kind, hardworking, and a brave opponent of an aggressive and cruel regional tryant of that "ancient" time.
"Er Quan Ying Yue" ("Moon Reflected in Er Quan") is a recent production. A biographical presentation about Ati Bing, one of China's most famous modern musicians and composers, it is well remembered for its "beautiful music." Ati was born at the turn of the century and died about 25 years ago, an outstanding musician of China.
"Xiao Zi Bei" (which translates as "The Younger Generation" and is known as "Bus No. 3") is, like "Moon," a product of recent years. Although it received 2 votes for first place, the 4 votes for third, 5 for fourth, and 12 for last seemed to nudge this item to the end -- in Chinese eyes. It is a seriocomic story of three pairs of lovers, all of whom either work on, or ride, "Bus No. 3 ."
"It makes people laugh," said a party member, "and it makes them think a lot. In China a person will be welcomed and respected if he works hard, no matter what job he has. Reinforcing this idea, the film also shows the spirit and ideals of the younger generation."
Condemnation of exploitation, child abuse, profiteering, and aggression and praise for self-improvement, selflessness, and hard work are old American themes. They are familiar enough concepts to permit the enjoyment of these Chinese offerings, strange though the culture -- particularly the music -- ma y appear to some.