Music in Talkies

Tsz Yum Yiu ’25

I was asked to watch Puss in Boots: The Last Wish (2022) by my friends. I declined the offer because I didn’t think it would be interesting enough for me to go to the cinema. I don‘t dislike films like Puss in Boots. If I ever watched it, I would definitely have a great time watching it. However, my time as a busy college student is limited, so I must use my time wisely. I had to watch the film Street Angel (1937), directed by Yuan Muzhi, as one of the assignments for my class. I heard many good things about it so I was excited to watch it. I never expected myself to love it so much. If there is a remastered version of this film, I would definitely watch it in the theater.

The film depicts the life of the lower class during 1930s China through the love story between Chenshaoping and Xiaohong, presenting the neglected and marginalized social class. Chenshaoping is a trumpet player from the local marching band; his tattered collared shirt suggests his life in poverty. On the other hand, Xiaohong, together with her sister, Xiaoyun, is forced to leave her hometown and family due to the war, and work under a couple. Xiaoyun is forced to work as an illegal prostitute and Xiaohong, due to her young age and her talent, works as a singer in a tea house. 

Chenshaoping and Xiaohong live across the street. As they spend most of their free time together, they have developed feelings for each other. However, Xiaohong’s foster parents want to sell her to a thug, known as Mr. Gu. In order to appeal to Xiaohong, Mr. Gu has bought her new clothes and brought her to eat at a restaurant. Oblivious to his intention, Xiaohong happily accepts all the offers. These are seen and reported to Chenshaoping by his friends. Feeling abandoned, he has a fight with her and she refuses to see him anymore. Soon after, Xiaohong finds out about her foster parents’ plan to sell her. Persuaded by her sister, she decides to go to Chenshaoping for help. At first, they want to prosecute with a lawyer, but they cannot afford the price for hiring a lawyer. They have no choice but to flee from where they live. They manage to find a new place with their friend, Laowang, and her sister, Xiaoyun joins them later on. Unfortunately, the foster father manages to find out where live and reports it to Mr.Gu. They invade the house while the men are away at work. To cover up for Xiaohong, Xiaoyun asks her to leave and stays behind. She gets stabbed by her foster father, and dies later.

 Songs are used very interestingly in the film. The “Song of Four Season” is used as an introduction to the context of the movie. Through the song, we learn the background of Xianghong and Xiaoyun, as their background is not mentioned anywhere else in the movie. The cut between the images and Xiaohong’s singing emphasizes the meaning of the song, giving more layers to the character of Xiaohong. “The Wander Songstress” is also used as a narrative technique. At first, it is used to show the relationship between Chenshaoping and Xiaohong. It is then used to show how their relationship has regressed after their fight. There are also other ways of using music that are also very impressive, such as a simple melody from the trumpet to signify the gathering of the friend group.

The use of the music in this film is complex. It enables the film to be narrated in a more efficient and interesting way. Without music, some of the scenes will seem long and draggy even if it only tries to convey what it needed. As one of the first few talkies in the Chinese film industry. Yuan Muzhi manages to utilize the advantages of music in a revolutionary way.

Image credits to China Rhyming.

Categories: Opinions

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