"Fleeing by Night" is an exquisite love story directed with admirable subtlety and sensitivity by Li-kong Hsu and Chi Yin from a superb script by Hui-ling Wang and Ming-xia Wang. It has striking similarities to Chen Kaige's landmark "Farewell, My Concubine" but is more intimate, even though it spans six decades.
The setting is Tianjin in the late '30s. A wealthy businessman, whose properties include a beautiful old theater, invites a Beijing opera company to perform there. The troupe arrives not long before Hsu Shao-dung (Lei Huang), the fiance of the businessman's pretty daughter Wei Ing'er (Rene Liu), returns from America after a long sojourn. A gifted cellist, Hsu expresses no interest in traditional Chinese opera, but Ing'er persuades him to attend a solo performance by the company's star, Lin Chung (Chao-te Yi), in the opera "Fleeing by Night." Lin portrays a disillusioned warrior who was slandered at the emperor's court and is fleeing government troops.
Lin has a strong, impressive voice, and the despair he expresses in wondering whether he will ever see his wife and mother again strikes an unexpectedly deep chord in Hsu. He feels connected to his Chinese roots, and he responds to the sound of Lin's voice as he responds to the sound of the music of his cello. When Ing'er and Hsu become friendly with the diffident Lin, they come to love him. What Hsu is slow to understand is that the love he feels is not platonic. Both Hsu and Ing'er are also unaware of the grimmer aspects of Lin's existence: In truth he is free only on stage.
All these feelings start roiling beneath a surface of the traditional formal behavior of Chinese society. Yet Ing'er's mother (Ah-leh Gua) worries that her daughter is seeing more of her fiance than is proper, and Haung Zilei (Li-jen Tai), the insinuating scion of a rich family, who scarcely bothers to disguise his lust for Lin, is quick to grow jealous over Lin and Hsu's intense budding friendship.
How long will it be before this complicated situation boils over? How long will it be before Tianjin falls to the invading Japanese, commencing the oppression of the city's elite that will be completed a decade later by the Communist Revolution?
Yin shows us the vulnerability and resignation behind Lin Chung's quietly dignified public persona, and Hsu and Ing'er emerge as complex and caring. Hsu and Ing'er are the kind of solitary individuals of whom people remark how sad it is that they're alone and apparently never have met the right person. They, however, experience isolation not as a consequence of having never loved but rather for having loved so deeply.
Throughout this beautiful film, which has a daringly long yet potent epilogue, ideas and emotions reverberate. "Fleeing by Night" is a film of extraordinary cumulative impact.
Unrated. Times guidelines: Complex adult themes.
'Fleeing by Night'
Hsu Shao-dung...Lei Huang
Wei Ing'er...Rene Liu
Lin Chung...Chao-te Yi
A Strand Releasing presentation of a Zoom Hunt International, Central Motion Picture and Broadband Films presentation of a co-production of Zoom Hunt International, China Film Co-Production Corp., Beijing Film Studio and Beijing Rosat Film and TV Production Co. Ltd. Directors Li-kong Hsu and Chi Yin. Producers Li-kong Hsu and Shi-hao Chang. Executive producers Li-kong Hsu and Shun-ching Chiu. Screenplay Hui-ling Wang and Ming-xia Wang. Cinematographer Cheng-hui Tsai. Editor Po-wen Chen. Music Chris Babida. Costume designer Jien-hua Tzou. Art director Jun Sung. In Mandarin, English subtitles. Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes.
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