Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Review: The Arrogant Princess (Teochew Opera)

Title: The Arrogant Princess (打金枝)
Genre: Teochew opera (潮剧)
Format: Stage opera
Production year: Around late 1990s to early 2000s
Director: Chen Wei
Music: Chen Dengmou
Scenography: Lin Xichong
Casts: Xu Shu'e as Gui Ai, Hong Liqing as Princess Junrui, Chen Lianzhong as Emperor, Lin Yanfang as Empress, Lin Roujia as Guo Ziyi

At first glance...

"The Arrogant Princess" is a well-known folk story which had been acted out in various Chinese opera genres. The highlight of the show lies in the scene whereby the Princess consort gives the Princess a tight slap for failing to observe her role as a filial daughter-in-law, something which in ancient times is a taboo act to be carried out to a member of the royal family. This show was staged by Jieyang City Chaoju Opera Troupe .


On the 70th birthday of Guo Ziyi (Duke Fenyang), all his sons, daughters and their spouses turned up to celebration, except for the wife of Guo Ai, Guo Ziyi's sixth son. Guo Ai's wife was Princess Junrui, and she refused to turn up as she believed that it was against the norm for members of the royal family to pay respect to their subjects. Guo Ai's fifth sister-in-law was a straight-forward person, and she mocked Guo Ai for bragging earlier that the Princess would sure come. This angered Guo Ai greatly, and stormed back to his residence to reprimand the Princess.

Meanwhile, in the residence of the Princess consort, the Princess was feeling moody with Guo Ai not by her side. When she heard that her consort had returned, she asked the palace maids to hang up the red latern. This hanging of red lantern was a practice of the imperial palace, and the red lantern served as a granted permission to enter the room. On seeing the lantern, Guo Ai grew more furious, and he had the lantern smashed. The Princess was suprised by Guo Ai's action, but did not realise that it was her who had made him angry. Guo Ai confronted the Princess for failing to turn up for his father's birthday celebration, and she insisted that she was not in the wrong for not bowing down to her subject. A heated argument between the couple soon broke out, and Guo Ai gave the Princess a tight slap in the end.

Unable to stomach the humiliation, the Princess decided to lodge a complain to the Emperor, and even made up stories that Guo Ai had abused her with she suffered injuries all over her body. The wise Emperor knew this is just a small squabble among the young couple, and decided to give the Princess a scare by pretending to get furious and "sentence" the consort to death. This shocked the Princess greatly, and she regretted her earlier actions. However, despite her pleadings, the Emperor was determined to pass the sentence.

Meanwhile, Guo Ziyi had found out about what Guo Ai had done. He was furious, and had him arrested and brought to the imperial court to surrender to the Emperor. The Emperor was impressed by Guo Ziyi being impartial in this matter. He forgave Guo Ai on the spot, much to the relief of Guo Ziyi. However, he still reprimanded Guo Ai for losing his cool and showing defiance towards the Imperial rules. The Emperor then led Guo Ai back to the inner palace to meet the Princess. After much coaxing from the Emperor and Empress, Guo Ai and the Princess fnally patched up. The Emperor even gave Guo Ai permission to use his hand again if the Princess ever gets wilful again. All's well ended well, and the young couple went over to Duke Fenyang's residence after their reconciliation to pay their over-dued respect to Guo Ziyi.


For traditional shows like this, I do not expect much from the script, as long as they do not go out of point, it is acceptable for me. For this production, the plot was concise enough, without having to go into unneccesary details like what some other productions I've seen before. Jieyang City Chaoju Opera Troupe is a relatively unknown troupe to me, but the standards of their performance is quite good. The 2 leads managed to portray the role of Princess Junrui and consort Guo Ai well. One particular point that I want to bring out is the role of Princess Junrui. This role is rather complex; she is wilful, but not in the sense of being spoilt and stuck-up. To my understanding, she is a lady who is well-taught in rules and customs, just that she failed to apply them in good use, and in this case, paying respects to her in-laws. Hong Liqing managed to capture the feelings of the Princess correctly, but it'll be better if she could "act cute" a bit more. Xu Shu'e's performance as Guo Ai is competent. She managed to balance the serious side of a Princess consort and the imprudent side of young Guo Ai well, without over-doing in either way. The other supporting roles were acted out well too.

As for the costumes and character portrayal, there were areas which I don't quite fancy. First, most of their costumes are actually sewn with sequin, making the design of the costumes look harsh, and at times "out-of-fashion". As for character portrayal, the actress assuming the role of Guo Ziyi's wife looked too young to me. When standing beside the wrinkle-faced Guo Ziyi, Madam Guo's face was too smooth, and her hair were all black. She should be of the same age as Guo Ziyi! Another character I wasn't too satisfied with it's portrayal is the role of Empress. Somehow the overall packaging just doesn't give me the feeling that she's the Empress, although she wears a big phoenix hairpiece on her head, and her costume was embroided with phoenixes.

I like the way the show was directed. There is a particular segment of the show which I rather like, whereby after the young couple patched up, Guo Ai invited the Princess pay respects to his father, but the Princess "refused", and Guo Ai "threatened" to slap her again. Of course, Guo Ai did not land his hand on the Princess again this time round. It's a lovey-dovey act which makes their reconsiliation look more complete. Most other productions only ended at the point where the Princess and her consort patched up. Another part I like is the part whereby the Emperor gave Guo Ai the permission to use his hands on the Princess if she were to become wilful again, and Guo Ai showed the Princess his fist to show his dominance over her.

On the whole, I feel that this show is not too bad. However, if not for the cast and the director's directing sense, I think this show would be a bore to watch.






Final rating