One needs to be aware of the lineage and of the performance genres that he carries on his back because they are out real point of reference in the movie.
Nowhere more so than in the “Litter-tipping Chanty” (dianjiao ge) that brings him into view and hearing, and of course into the world of “Jiu’er” (Sister 9), the prototypical bartered bride whom of course he must (as Robin Hood) rescue.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Zhang Yimou base HIS debut film on self- told story of a professional entertainer on the brink of overstretch. Opposites may not attract but they reciprocate. Chen Kaige’s success d’estime Yellow Earth was “about” the music/song at the other end of the “folk” spectrum, something close to non-audienced or certainly never “public” ballad. Chen Kaige of course never acted, or entertained or clowned. If you don’t believe me, go see Life on a String, where the entertainer couldn’t be more mismasked.
Zhang’s well documented rowdiness and wild gesturing even in “penthouse” conferences (as Mo Yan’s own experience in a funeral and marriage troupe, or as itinerant jack-of-all-trades) comes through loud and clear in his selection of scripts: starting with Red Sorghum’s Yu Zhan’ao, wending its way through Red Lantern (Wife 3, the adultress opera singer manque Lotus), 徐福贵 the reckless gambler-cum-expert puppeteer in Huozhi; and of course Xiao Jinbao (Bijou) the nightclub singer in Shanghai Triad who changes mates as flippantly as her songs (which go from bad to worse – (sex allure alone keeps her employed, but she longs for a home and end to having to entertain- all fit the profile of the entertainer always near disaster; 云南乡村的傩戏表演者李加民though not a raconteur or skit performer still gets (again on the wrong side of law because of he (ironically) cannot tolerate teasing over his illegimate son, and almost murders the teaser. It is hard to avoid the impression that Zhang chooses scripts ever hunting for resonance with his own unpredictably wild, explosive play-acting. A man to admire, but not one to keep company with.