Unmasking Childsong’s Dark Side in Shanghai Noir

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The point is put most clearly in Yasuiqian (1937) which I shall touch on only briefly because it has been so carefully inspected in Jones’ Yellow Music.
… a child prodigy, (J 132) played by Hu Rongrong earns overindulgence from her family because of her tap dancing talent …. Though the moralizing finger spares her any direct indictment, the chastisement of childish precocity as potentially anti-social and character-warping is delivered by contrapuntal rebuke administered by collectivized, schoolroom framed elementary school children firmly under the baton of an austere and untterly UN vain schoolmarm.

The same problematic – that of a charming pre-pubic girl-child winning attention (too much, too easily) because of the innocent purity of her voice and her demeanor – occurs as well in Yedian, though one has to look closely to see it unfold. What is particularly of interest is the anticipation in that film of the ancillary elaboration of childsong as a means of adult 11th hour retreat (into a fictional past) from already obvious and irretrievable surrender to commercial (sexual) corruption. This is the same trope of course that Zhang Yimou elaborates in Shanghai Triad, where the girl-child 阿娇 (Ajiao, jiao= both “charming” and “pampered/spoiled”) triggers a lullaby-fantasy on the part of the already past-her-prime Xiaojinbao, the music of the lullaby being of course the film’s title “Rowing Upstream to Granny’s Bridge”.

The treatment in Yedian is more succinct, and develops from the child-adult dialogue between a girlchild/orphan named 大妞 (daniu, “almost grown girl-child) and 石小妹, the younger sister of the Vamp/Madam Sai Guanyin.
But it too is enacted or elaborated through a disarmingly simple, nursery-rhyme like folksong celebrating rustic familial New Year’a rite.

Childsong as belated Retreat from Corruption, Yedian.

It is the second of the three sequences that we must heed, if only it is so very like the contra-singing of Ajiao and Bijou in the latter part of Shanghai Triad. (though the lead-follow is reversed). When she (Bijou) in that sequence recostumes herself as a once-way island child, she next proposes a song she claims she remembers from childhood. Of course it is the nursery rhyme “Rowing upstream to Granny Bridge”, in which a child fantasizes a wedding coach (bridal litter) pulled (hoisted) by a pair of yellow dogs. The charming nursery rhyme is then echoed by little flirt Ajiao and the country-sprite Tang Shuisheng.

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