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Film / Peking Opera Blues

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Peking Opera Blues is a 1986 film from Hong Kong, directed by Tsui Hark.

It is 1913, only a short time after the Qing Dynasty was overthrown and the Republic of China was proclaimed. General Yuan Shikai, the second president of the new republic, has a weak grasp on power. He is attempting to secure a foreign loan to help stabilize his government. What he doesn't know is that his own daughter, Cao Yan, is a revolutionary, and is after the loan money to help the revolutionaries.

Cao Yan goes to the Peking Opera House to meet Ling, a spy. She there becomes entangled with two unusual women with agendas of their own. Bai Niu is the daughter of the opera troupe director; she wishes to perform onstage but Chinese opera is all-male. The other interloper is Sheung Hung, a fortune-seeker who has arrived at the opera on the hunt for a stolen box of jewelry.

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Many plot complications ensue.


Tropes:

  • Action Girl: Cao Yan is a better spy than Ling, as well as a good fighter. Bai Nui isn't exactly a sloth in martial arts either, though she never gets the opportunity to actually use it on their enemies.
  • All Abusers Are Male: There is a disturbing number of male sexual predators in the movie, and the only male who is preyed on (by another male) acts very feminine. Kind of justified considering the period this is set in.
  • Band of Brothers: Band of Sisters actually. Even though they come from very different walks of life, Cao Yan, Bai Nui and Sheung Hung bound during their adventure to a degree that even the selfish Sheung Hung risks her life for the others.
  • Colliding Criminal Conspiracies: Cao Yan's plot to steal the loan documents meets Bai Niu's hunt for the missing jewels.
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  • Commie Nazis: The military government is suppressive and controlling, but it is never quite clear which if any ideology it follows.
  • Concert Climax: Peking Opera Climax to be precise.
  • Deep Cover Agent: Cao Yan.
  • Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting: Mostly avoided. Only a few characters know Martial Arts, and those who do tend to use it on stage. On the street a good old pistol is the favoured weapon.
  • Gender Reveal: An unusual one considering that the women who are confused for males are dressed in what passes for periodical drag.
  • Genre Mashup: All the main characters seem to star in a different kind of movie, Cao Yan in a spy movie with political undertones, Bai Nui in a martial arts movie with social commentary and Sheung Hung in a classic Chinese comedy. As a result the movie often switches mood from one scene to another, but it somehow works.
  • Historical Domain Character: Yuan Shikai was a real guy who was president of China and very briefly got himself made emperor, before he was toppled from the throne and died soon after.
  • Honey Trap: Multiple times, but remarkable is one situation in which Bai Niu is an unknowing participant in one. When she realizes what is going on she understandably doesn't take it well.
  • It's All About Me: Sheung Hung for most of the movie.
  • Of Corpse He's Alive: After the new governor is assassinated by Sheung Hung, the soldiers outside storm in. Trying to hide the death, Pat Neil (Sally Yeh) moves his body around, half covered by sheets, to make it look like the soldiers interrupted the two during intercourse.
  • Stealth Expert: Played straight with Cao Yan and Ling, subverted with Sheung Hung who is extremely clumsy and nevertheless manages to sneak around quite a bit.
  • Sweet on Polly Oliver: An very unusual version of one, since the characters in question are women dressed as women. Cao Yan's father just believes that they are males because Peking Opera singers usually are, regardless of the gender of the role they play. After declaring that he would marry both of them if they were female, he is really delighted when the Gender Reveal happens.
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: The cast of the Peking Opera.

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