Weihong Bao is an associate professor of East Asian languages and cultures and film studies at UC Berkeley.
Zhao Dan, Zhang Ruifang, Kao Po, Chiang Taun,
The second of two films Zheng made to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, this biopic celebrates the life of Nie Er, the young composer of the PRC’s national anthem, March of the Volunteers, who died at the age of twenty-three. Whereas Zheng’s first anniversary-related film, Lin Zexu, was a lavish, adventure-filled Opium War–set costumer filled with political intrigue, Nie Er observes the more artistic and cultural achievements of the Republic, following Nie from his college beginnings to his musical blossoming in 1930s Shanghai, and (of course) his eventual anti-imperialist awakening. (The film’s focus on such “bourgeois” musical endeavors, and especially its celebration of pre-Republic Shanghai’s cultural scene, later led to ruthlessly attacks from Red Guard critics.) Shot in gorgeous color, Nie Er is a fascinating communist flipside to fifties Hollywood music biographies.