Tuesday, November 28, 2006

postheadericon The Soong Sisters

Hubby is in China at the moment and in his honor I decided to watch a Chinese (Mandarin) movie that I spied in the "Foreign Films" section in the library. I'm not sure why I picked this particular movie, "The Soong Sisters", after all I had never heard of them before, but I am so glad I did because this movie tells the story of pre-modern China - right from the revolution that overthrew the Qin dynasty in 1911 right up until when China became a Communist Nation in 1949- through the lives of the celebrated Soong sisters, daughters of Charlie Soong, American-educated Methodist minister and one of the main financiers of the 1949 Revolution and who made a fortune selling Bibles in China. Apparently this movie won a bunch of awards at the 1997 Hong Kong Film Festival.

"Once upon a time in distant China, there were three sisters. One loved money, one loved power, and one loved her country." So opens this historical, melodramatic chronicle of the influential lives of three daughters from one of pre-Communist China's wealthiest families. Two of the Soong sisters married important figures in 20th-century Chinese history. Soong Ching-ling (played by Maggie Cheung) married Sun Yat-sen, who led the Chinese revolution that toppled the Qing dynasty in 1911 and became China's first president, while her sister Mei-ling (Vivian Wu) married Sun's successor, the famed Chiang Kai-shek. Chiang became president of China after Sun Yat-sen and had to deal with a nation thoroughly plundered by Western powers and by local Chinese warlords. His own government was corrupt and he was eventually defeated by the communists in 1949. Chiang and the Nationalists fled to Taiwan, where he remained president, a virtual dictator, till his death in 1975. The oldest daughter Ai-ling (Michelle Yeoh) married industrialist H.H. Kung, a wealthy and powerful man who eventually became Hong Kong's finance minister.

Most of my knowledge of modern China consists of Mao's rule and what came after..this little period between the end of the Qin Dynasty and Mao, with the Japanese invasion, the civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists, resulting in the Nationalists fleeing to Taiwan and the Communists taking over power, was never well known to me until now. But then again, I am wary about promoting this movie because, having been through strict Chinese censorship, I am sure this movie presents a very biased look at history with Chiang Kai-Shek and the youngest Soong daugher, Mei-Ling being depicted as the bad fellas and with Ching-Ling who was married to Sun-Yat Sen being the most likeable. Her politics were Left-leaning and she remained in China after the communists took over, eventually becoming honorary chairperson of the People's Republic. Not surprisingly, Soong Ching-ling was estranged from her two capitalist sisters. IMO, Mei-Ling was definitely the most fascinating and accomplished of the Soong sisters.

Why are people, including myself, so fascinated by the Soong Sisters? I guess it's because China being the patriarchal society that it is, it seems incongruous to have women at the helm, no doubt, in part it was the women's wealth and their connections that heralded them onto the world stage, but even so it was quite an achievement. Indira Gandhi, Corazon Aquino are also to be admired. Not sure why the US, this great respecter of women's rights and achievements should have taken so long to see a Condoleeza Rice.

For further reading on the Soong Sisters, go here


Sanjay said...

Sounds like an interesting movie. Although as you noted, given the topic and censorship it is probably biased.
BTW more comments on the fcp topic at Sai's. Feel free to chime in.

beenzzz said...

Funny, I saw this movie at the video store in the foreigh section and I was very tempted. I wish I had picked it up!!!!

Lotus Reads said...

Thanks, Sanjay, and chime in I did but without the benefit of listening to the interview (darn Real Player). Anyway, after I listen to it I might do a post myself and link to Sai's for the great comments!

Thanks very much for stopping by.

Hi Beenzzz Pick it up the next time you're there, do it! :)))

Sugarlips said...

Sounds interesting to me too & will watch it sometime soon BUT captions give me headache :(

Stay Beautiful...!!

Princess Jibi said...

When I was in Guyana, I use to watch one called 8 heroes.. The spoke in Chinese, it showed from the Suriname station, cause the are alot of chinese over there.. I never understood a word the were saying.. But the actors where so cute.. and the can move so fast.. and I normally tried to interpret what was happening from there action.. I use to watch a cartoon one though called Samuri X.. It was very nice.. It had alot of female characters that where very accomplished...

Lotus Reads said...

Hi, Sugarlips I know what you mean about the subtitles, it forces you to stay glued to the TV screen. I hate having to use the "pause" button everytime I have to go to the kitchen!

Hi Princess Sometimes I like surfing the French or even Hongkong channels just to hear them speak...I soon grow bored though! :))

pandora said...

hey you :) i had read about the Soong sisters in one of my history classes...quite fascinating really.

i havent updated my blog in ages - its been so crazy lately..got a pinch nerve in my right hand and typing with the left is no fun - esp. with my finals due this week and the next!

Lotus Reads said...

Hi Pandora! Lovely to see you here. Yes, the Soong Sisters studied in a University in Georgia where apparently they absolutely shone! Can you remember in which grade you learned about them?

So sorry to hear about the pinched nerve in your hand - must be so painful;I doubly appreciate you stopping by. All the best with your exams!

Sugarlips said...

Man oh man 2 of the Soong sister's are very pretty :)

YTSL said...

Hello there --

A word re the movie's political bias: Something to bear in mind is that the film's largely a Hong Kong -- as opposed to Mainland Chinese -- production. And yes, it had censorship problems but there is -- or, at least, used to be -- a Malaysian VCD which had the uncut version of the work.

Something else to bear in mind is that Soong Ching-ling is revered in Taiwan along with Mainland China whereas Soong Mei-Ling appears to be more admired in Taiwan and the 'West'. So one could say that the film's bias reflects more the feelings of Chinese in general rather than just the Communist/Mainland Chinese per se.

"I guess it's because China being the patriarchal society that it is, it seems incongruous to have women at the helm..."

Wanna-be anthropologist that you are, you should realize that all societies in the world are patriachal. *And*, I'll maintain, China's in not necessarily that markedly more so than others... ;S

In any event, am glad you enjoyed the movie. It's not perfect but I too think there's quite a bit to recommend within it. :)