Silver Spear: Part of the Chinese American Film Festival

By Maryam Bordbari

Corsair Staff Writer

Seats creaked and papers were shuffled last Friday night as the audience waited for Yuan Huiqin, leading actress, and Xiao Feng, director, of "Silver Spear," a Chinese digital production of a traditional Peking Opera that is not very traditional.

Huiqin and Feng, along with some representatives from the Chinese American Film Festival were stuck on the freeway in L.A.'s infamous traffic, which was slower than usual due to the Halloween holiday weekend, but managed to get to Santa Monica College for the question and answer session that followed the showing of "Silver Spear."

"Silver Spear," 2007, is a historical digital opera film that utilizes techniques never used before in a film version of a Peking opera. Although the film used simple backgrounds and only a handful of cast members, dance, aerobatics, and music were incorporated into "Silver Spear," making it a modern production.

A combination of modern and traditional art, "Silver Spear," is a love story that takes place at the end of the Sui Dynasty, 550-577 A.D. Huiqin, portrays a faithful wife, Jiang Guizhi, who is left alone with her son as her husband, Luo Yi, leaves in search of fame and riches. Guizhi and Yi fall in love when Guizhi helps her father, Master Jiang, an expert in silver spear fighting, teach Yi the techniques of silver spearing. Forty years later, Guizhi learns that her husband is still alive and is a general in the peasant uprising at Wagangzhai.

Guizhi sends her son and grandchild to meet Yi. But Yi refuses to admit that he was once married to Guizhi because he is re-married and has a son from his second wife. Guizhi is so upset that she challenges Yi to a silver spear fight. The story ends when Guizhi defeats Yi and leaves him in shame and embarrassment.

The highlight of "Silver Spear" is during a scene in which Huiqin sings 108 consecutive lines continuously for 24 minutes. Director Feng wanted to respect Huiqin by letting her follow her own rhythm, which meant that the long scene was not stopped in order to make adjustments to camera angles or actors positioning. Feng managed to shoot the 24-minute scene in hundreds of angles, which he says was the hardest part of making the film.

According to Feng, another challenge while making "Silver Spear" that he encountered was that he does not understand Peking opera. Feng joked, "I use an up close angle to portray a scene if I understand it and a far away angle if I don't." Feng studied oil painting in college but decided to shift to the film industry and has won over 20 state level Chinese film awards.

Feng said, "Miss Yuan Huiqin sings so well that I had to make ["Silver Spear"]." Huiqin is a National First-Level Actress in China and graduated from China's National Peking Opera Company. "I devoted all my youth to this art form," said Huiqin as she comments on the rigorous and strict training set for Peking opera artists.

Most students came for the promised extra credit but left with a different outlook into the Chinese film industry. "It was a completely different experience…I am really glad I came," said Stella Kim, 32.  

Professor Joe Wu's language department and Professor Josh Kanin's communication department sponsored the showing of Silver Spear in order to promote global citizenship. Kanin said, "One of the most powerful agents of intercultural communication has been the medium of cinema."

At the end of the night SMC was awarded with a Certificate of Appreciation by the chairmen of Chinese American Film Festival, James Su, for helping to fulfill the goal of C.A.F.F., which is to spread worldwide awareness and interest in Chinese movies.

"[At SMC] our students are exposed to different languages and different cultures, which will help them to succeed as global citizens in the multi-cultural workplaces of the 21st century," said Kanin. And by being exposed to a modern but traditional Peking opera, students learned about global citizenship through the form of a Chinese movie.