In a momentous achievement for China’s arts and cultural scene, Shanghai recently premiered the nation’s pioneering 8K panoramic sound Kunqu Opera film titled “The Handan Dream.” This marks a significant stride towards the preservation of China’s rich, 600-year-old intangible cultural heritage.
The narrative of “The Handan Dream” transports its audience back to the days of the renowned Chinese playwright Tang Xianzu from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Within this opera masterpiece, the story unfolds around the scholar Lu Sheng. His chance encounter with an immortal, Lü Dongbin, leads him through a dream that spans half a century, chronicling the life of a high-ranking official.
Interestingly, the film commenced its production journey in April 2021. This year was momentous for the world of Kunqu Opera for two reasons. Firstly, it was the 20th anniversary of the opera style’s distinction by UNESCO. Secondly, it marked the centenary of the Kunqu Teaching and Learning Institute. Movie enthusiasts across China can anticipate the nationwide screening of this opulent cinematic production before this year concludes.
The transformation of “The Handan Dream” from a classic stage performance to a cinematic gem is no small feat. Lead actress Liang Guyin reflected upon this transition during the film’s premiere, emphasizing the significance of sustaining and transmitting the Kunqu Opera legacy through modern mediums. She described the accomplishment as genuinely uplifting.
The film’s production phase witnessed unyielding dedication from its cast. Three seasoned Kunqu performers, namely Ji Zhenhua, Liang Guyin, and Zhang Mingrong, exhibited immense commitment. They embraced rigorous vocal and physical regimens, forgoing the convenience of body doubles.
Marrying tradition with technology, the film brought forth fresh challenges. The crispness and vibrant hues demanded by 8K technology necessitated intricate attention to makeup, attire, and post-production nuances. Notably, a technical squad devoted more than six months to craft unique special effects for the movie, leveraging AI techniques in the process.
Reflecting on the film, Gu Haohao, at the helm of the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe and the film’s executive producer, shared insights from early viewers. The sheer talent and artistry showcased by experienced performers deeply resonated with audiences. Gu believes this film will stand the test of time, serving as a priceless resource for generations to come.
Gu also revealed future aspirations for the Shanghai Kunqu Opera Troupe. They aim to bring all four plays from Tang Xianzu’s “Four Dreams of Linchuan” series to the big screen, amalgamating talents both seasoned and emerging. These adaptations, she believes, will further the mission of safeguarding and promoting Kunqu Opera’s rich legacy.
Internationally, “The Handan Dream” is scheduled for screening at the prestigious 36th Tokyo International Film Festival and the 19th Chinese American Film Festival later in October.
Tracing its roots to Kunshan in Jiangsu Province, the Kunqu Opera stands as one of China’s most ancient operatic forms. Its inception dates back to the Song dynasty (960-1279). Notably, in 2001, UNESCO acknowledged it as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity – a proud first for China’s cultural heritage.