Wang Bu Liao by The Intern
I don’t care much for modern Chinese pop. It’s a little bit too slick, too treacly, and generally terrible and second rate. In the schlock-fest that is modern Chinese pop, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that some pretty excellent, or at least highly enjoyable stuff came out of China during the sixties. You need only watch one or two Wong Kar Wai films to know that; he loves to take an old Chinese standard, play it throughout the movie at key moments, and absolutely crush you with it by the end. The Shaw Brothers, in their renowned Huang Mei operas and musical films, had some absolutely lovely tunes. You probably know the Shaw Brothers from their fantastic Kung Fu flicks, but their studios in Hong Kong churned out all sorts of stuff, from historical dramas to softcore porn. Some of their best sellers were the Huang Mei operas, traditional Chinese musicals that catered towards Chinese house wives. Here’s a traditional example:
This is from the classic film “Liang Shan Bo Yu Zhu Ying Tai”, known in English as The Love Eterne or Love Eternal. This film is considered the golden standard for Huang-Mei Opera, like the Casablanca of the genre, can’t touch it. It tells the story of a girl who dresses up as a boy in order to get into college, and falls in love with one of her classmates. Typical of Huang-Mei Opera, all the leads are played by women. This clip helpfully has subtitles, so you can see the often witty lyrics that match the playful music. Besides having fairly pretty voices, if you ask me, these women are awfully good actresses, always lending character to the lyrics they sing. Besides traditional Huang Mei opera, the Shaw Brothers released a bunch of musicals set in the present day. Here’s a clip, complete with Chinese characters at the bottom, for those who are inclined to sing along:
As you can see, Run Run Shaw had his pick of talent in China, and found some pretty amazing singers. My absolute favorite old Chinese song from the sixties, however, is “Wang Bu Liao” or “Can’t Forget”, by Lin Dai:
So, things I love about this song. First of all, the piano intro, which might sound hokey to me in any other context, just sucks me in. I fall for the whole instrumentation, the piano, the strings, especially the somber horn solo near the end, it all works perfectly for me. But first and foremost is Lin Dai’s delivery. Lin Dai actually led a pretty tragic life, killing herself at the height of her fame. In the film that this song is featured in, “Bu Liao Qing” or “Love Without End”, Lin Dai plays a heartbroken young woman forced to earn her living by singing in nightclubs. The lyrics are beautiful in the simple, eloquent manner of Chinese poetry. Basically, it starts “can’t forget, can’t forget, can’t forget your good times, can’t forget your bad times” and goes on to outline the various memories, good and bad, that the speaker cannot seem to forget. Lin Dai really grasps the pain of the song, and intelligently sings it in a way that highlights both the bitterness and the sadness of lost love. It’s the kind of song that haunts you, and that is pretty much my favorite kind of song. Hope you enjoy.