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More on Cantonese Opera

Operas for Deities

Operas for Deities are often performed in celebration of folk festivals, birthdays of deities, establishments or renovations of altars and temples. Its purpose is to entertain both the deities and the local communities. Researches show that most of the Cantonese operas in Hong Kong can be categorized as Operas for Deities. Professor CHAN Sau Yan, a reputed scholar in Cantonese opera, points out that two major types of Cantonese operas, those performed in temporary bamboo-shed theatres and those performed in permanent theatres, enjoy parallel development in Hong Kong. This is a very unique characteristic. Although the proportion of Operas for Deities had dropped to 2/5 in the 1990s as compared to the 2/3 of the grand total of Cantonese opera performances in the 1980s, its importance has not diminished. In fact, most of the veteran Cantonese opera performers are still very active and enthusiastic in their performances both in theatres and in the bamboo-shed theatres, such as Yuen Siu Fai, Man Chin Sui, Yau Sing Po, Chan Hiu Kau, Lam Gam Tong, Mui Suet See, Law Ka Ying and Lisa Wang. As much effort have been directed towards the Operas for the Deities, many traditional styles,characteristics and customs of traditional Cantonese opera have been well preserved.

Cantonese Opera and Hong Kong Movies

Cantonese opera is a significant symbol of local folk culture. During the 1940s and 1950s, a lot of well-known Cantonese operas had been adapted for the big screen and numerous films were produced. In the recent two decades, Cantonese opera has also become the background of a number of Hong Kong movies. Here are two examples:

Hu Du Men

Hu Du Men is a 1996 film directed by Shu Kei. “Hu Du Men” is a jargon in Cantonese opera theatre, depicting an imaginary line separating the stage from the real world. Once the actor passes the back stage and proceeds to the front stage, he has to leave himself behind and get himself totally absorbed in his own character. The main plot of the movie surrounds Kim-sum who is a charismatic Cantonese opera star. It has also touched on the issues such as the challenges and difficulties Cantonese opera troupes face when they try to implement reforms on this traditional art.

The Mad Phoenix

The Mad Phoenix is also a 1996 film, directed by Ko Chi Sum and written by To Kwok Wai. The movie bases itself on the life of “Naam Hoi Sap Saam Long” who was a gifted, famed and productive playwright in the 1930s. From this movie, not only can one understand more about the formalities of Cantonese opera, but can also get himself more familiar with the remarkable development of Cantonese opera in the regions of Guangzhou and Hong Kong during the 1920s and 1930s. According to the movie, Naam Hoi Sap Samm Long is the mentor of Tong Tik sang, one of the most famous playwrights in Hong Kong. However, no definite evidence has been found on this in history.

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