Hong lu meng (Dream of the Red Chamber) (1962)
Director: Chiu Feng Yuan.
Starring: Paul Chang, Yunhua Chen (Lady Wang), Wei Hong (Grandmother Jia), Chieh Jen (Bao Yu), Pao-Shu Kao (Wang Xi Feng), Carrie Ku Mei (Jinchuan, singing voice), Shan Kwan, Ivy Ling Po (singing voice), Betty Loh Ti (Lin Dai Yu), Xiaonong Ma (Aunt), Chou Mo (Qingwen), Lydia Shum (Little Fool), Feng Tien, Pat Ting Hung (Xue Baochai), Grace Ting Ning (Xi Ren).
semi-autobiographical story of Cao family in the 18th c. during the Qing (Manchu) Dynasty (1644-1912) founded by the Manchu clan Aisin Gioro in Manchuria
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Beijing. Mistress Lin Dai Yu has arrived, having been carried in a palanquin. Grandmother tells her that her mother has just recently died very unexpectedly. Lin starts crying. Grandmother introduces Dai Yu to her aunt and uncle. Now entering the room laughing all the way, is Wang Xifeng the niece of Dai Yu's aunt and also the wife of elder brother Lian. Grandmother describes her as spiteful. Dai Yu bows and calls her, her second sister-in-law.
A woman announces the arrival of Master Bao Baoyu, who looks like a woman. He believes that Dai Yu is a younger sister. Bao says he has seen her before, but can't recall where. The others correct Bao by telling him it's not possible that she ever saw her cousin before. Bao shows Dai Yu a jade stone pendant and asks his cousin if she has such a stone. Dai Yu says no and this puzzles Bao even more. The jade stone was made for him when he was one year old. He decides that since his younger and older "little sisters" do not have such a pendant, he will throw his pendant away. He is stopped before he can do this. There is a little scuffle over the jade stone, but grandmother eventually is able to put the pendant around Bao's neck. She says Lin used to have such a pendant that her aunt held for her. The pendant was buried with her aunt.
Bao settles down, but now, as he says, he wants to taste the rouge from his cousin's lips. Grandmother scolds Bao for being unruly. Lin's aunt takes Bao out of the room with her. Lin and Feng Lazi take grandmother over to sit in her chair. Grandmother tells Feng Lazi to make Lin feel welcome in the house. Now Lin's "serving wench" arrives and is introduced. Her name is Xueyuan. Grandmother thinks that the servant girl is too small to do the housework, so she has Zijuan called in to be Lin's servant. Grandmother now asks Lin if she has been taking her medicine regularly. Lin says yes. Zijuan comes into the room and bows before Lin, who is very warm to the woman and helps her up from her bow.
Zijuan tells Lin that she is worrying too much. Lin tells her that her fate has been a bitter one. She also indicates she has been here before.
Bao is told that Aunt Xue from Nanjing has brought his cousin Xue Baochai along with her. The aunt has come to live in the house. The main reason for the move is that his cousin Xue Pan killed a foreigner.
Bao talks with the new arrivals. He learns that his cousin haa a jade stone of her own. The aunt says since they have matching jade stones, perhaps this means that they should be together.
Dai Yu comes into the room and is introduced. Master Bao says he finally recognizes her.
Everyone sits down at the table for some wine. Baoyu's mother tells Baoyu that he should not be drinking wine. She is afraid he will get drunk and grandmother will blame her.
Mater Bao's old wet nurse Lee scolds Qingwen for not greeting her.
Qingwin was napping at the time. The wet nurse gets angry at Qingwen and
says she will make sure that Qingwin never gets a husband. This upsets the
young lady a good deal and she complains to Baoyu. The young man says Lee
is an old hag. Qingwin says the Lee will run her out. She asks Baoyu
that, since she is not mistress of the house, how can she stay? Baoyu says
that everyone is leaving him and he will soon be all alone. Qingwing says
she will stay, if he promises her three things: that he will never taste
another woman's lips again; that he never talk about being lonely. She
can't get the third promise out because she is interrupted by a servant who lies
and says Mistress Lin has asked why hasn't Bao come up to see her. So Bao
goes to see her. Lin tells him she is too tired to get up. So he
lies down beside her. Bao starts to tickler her, but they are interrupted
Mistress Lin comes to see Bao. Suddenly, Bao says his head hurts and falls onto a couch. He says he is dying. His forehead is very hot. Grandmother and the others come over to check on him. They send for Dr. Wang. The Doctor tells grandmother that Bao will recover as long as he takes his medicine.
Out in the garden Lin picks up the petals falling from trees filled with blossoms. Bao is now well. He also gathers some petals. They meet in the garden and both collect petals. The go together to bury their collected petals. The Old Master calls for Bao. Bao is sad to leave Lin. He runs into Qingwing and she laughs saying that she sent a false message to bring him inside. Lin throws Bao's book into the stream.
Lin comes back a little late and finds the house door bolted. She asks to be let in, but a woman inside tells her that Bao gave strict instructions not to let anyone in, since everyone has gone to bed. Outside she starts crying. The door is opened and some women go out with a lantern. Lin goes into the house. She seems very depressed and goes to bed, but can't sleep.
The next morning, Bao comes to see Lin. He asks her if his absence yesterday caused her any worries. Lin just ignores him, walking around and giving the servants orders. She goes to the garden and Bao follows her. He asks her what he did that was so wrong, but she tells him just to ignore her. Two servants fetch Bao to go see Old Madam. Bao doesn't want to go, but they pull him out of the garden. Alone, Lin sings a sad song. This draws the attention of Bao, who asks who is singing. Bao returns to the garden. She cries and Bao, sitting, cries too. Lin sees him and calls him a young demon. Bao starts to cry, complaining of Lin's rejection of him, when they started out as friends. Now she tells him what is bothering her. She asks why were orders given not to let her into the house last night? Bao swears he gave no such order, so Lin suggests that if it was the female servants, then he should teach them a lesson. Now both Lin and Bao laugh and smile.
In the house Bao says to Lin that " . . . bedsides Old Madam and my parents, there is only you." Miss Baochai comes into the room. Another woman comes in to invite the women to attend an opera in Qingxuguan Temple with Old Madam. Bao is going to go with them too.
After the opera, Bao walks Lin home. She tells him that tomorrow she is going home. Bao says: "I'll follow you. . . . These words I say only to you." Lin cries and tells him to stop teasing her. She finishes the trip home with only her servant Zijuan.
Bao goes into Madam's room where she is sleeping. One of her servants, Jincha, is giving her a light massage. Bao flirts with her, in order to let him take over the massaging. As they flirt, Madam awakens and overhears the conversation. She is furious with Jincha and tells her to leave her service.
Qingwing is mad at Bao for being so distant with her. To soothe her, he brings her his fans so she can tear them up. Qingwing tears up two and now is in a better mood. New comes that Jincha has fallen into the well and died. The servants adds: "She has died over you." Madam is upset about the incident and says that she was going to call Jincha back into service after only a few days.
Bao tries to console the women, but they just push him away. His father arrives to ask Bao what did he do now. He wants to know why Jincha jumped into the well. Outside father hears the servant Jiao talking to the with him and saying that the young master raped his serving wench and she jumped into the well. Father is very mad and takes Bao to the den. There he demands answers. Bao is silent, so dad starts beating him with a piece of bamboo. The women hear the uproar and come in to save Bao. Grandmother says if the father kills the son, he will then have to kill her. She tells her son that he beat her grandson without hearing any of the evidence against him. Dad backs down, saying he won't beat his son. Grandmother says she is returning to Nanjing and will take Madam and Baoyu. The bamboo smashes seem to have hurt Bao pretty badly. They carry him from the room.
A servant tells Lin that the story is that Bao's father beat him badly for no reason. Lin goes to see Bao and cries over him. Seeing her so sad, Bao tells her that he's only faking in order to teach his father a lesson. He asks her not to leave, but she says if she has to see the other women, she will feel humiliated. His mother comes to see him, but Bao pretends to be asleep. When mother leaves, Bao tells Qingwing to takes some handkerchiefs to Miss Lin. Qingwing gives the handkerchiefs to Miss Lin, which does cheer her up.
Bao's mother listens to some talk about comparing Miss Lin and Miss Baochai. The woman says Baochai has many blessings and is a good relative of the Wangs. Madam is of two minds. She likes Baochai, but she know her son really like Lin. Madam goes over to see Baochai who is returning to Nanjing with her family. Madam tells her to please come back to visit them again. Baocahi turns shy and Madam laughs.
The season turn to fall. Miss Lin is ill and Xue Baochai has moved away. Bao learns that Lin is also sad. She got a letter from Yangzhou saying that her scholar-official father has died.
Lin sings in her room. Bao comes to visit Lin, but her servant Zijuan tells him that her mistress is depressed and he must not make her angry again. Zijuan asks Bao what he will do when Miss Lin goes home. Bao doesn't believe it, because her parents are dead. Zijuan tells him that his family, the Jia clan, is big and powerful and Lin has many uncles. Miss Lin could live with one of her Lin uncles and one of these days someone will come for her. This scares Bao. He goes into a kind of trance and has to be led over to Grandmother as she wants to see him.
Zijuan goes to feed soup to Miss Lin, who asks who called for her? When she learns it was Bao, she asks Zijuan why she did not wake her? Just then another servants come running from grandmother's place asking Zijuan what did she say to the young master, whose eyes are glazed over and his hands and fee are as cold as if he were dead. He couldn't say a word. This upsets Lin who asks Zijuan to strangle her to death. Zijuan now has to go over to grandmother's house and take the responsibility for what she told Bao. Zijuan faces grandmother's wrath as she demands to know what Zijuan said to her grandson. She calls the servant a useless wench and a little witch. Zijuan goes over to Bao. She does wake him from his trance and says she was just having a little fun with him, that they are not going to move.
All of a sudden they notice that Bao's jade stone is missing. The women start a search for the jade stone. They also call the doctor to see Bao. Zijuan returns to Miss Lin and tells her the trance was because Bao lost his jade stone. Lin tries to get up to help find it, but is to weak to get out of bed. One of the women searching for the jade stone, reports to Madam that Qingwing has been acting in a very frivolous manner and she shouldn't let her near Bao. Madam sends Qingwing from the house.
Madam tells grandmother that she heard that a fortune teller said that only a person born of gold can help them find the jade stone. Grandmother says that Bao wants Lin, so they must put the two together, but madam and a sister of Baochai speak out for Baochai, as the person who should be with Bao. Grandmother says they should handle this matter in secret. The laughing, silly servant starts laughing and two other female servants push her away.
Lin goes to see Bao, but is having a hard time walking there. She hears someone crying and goes to investigate. She find the crier is the silly servant. The servants says that they threw her out because of what she said about Bao marrying Baochai. Now it's Lin's turn to be shocked. She now is determined to see Bao.
Lin marches in to see Bao. Now both of them seem to suffer from the same sickness as they can't communicate with each other effectively. Zijuan pulls Lin away from the young master.
Grandmother makes the plans for the semi-secret wedding of Bao to Baochai, but she is worried a bit about the marriage. Bao's aunt decides that they will have to make a bride switch at the last minute. Let Bao think he is marrying Lin and then bring in Baochai at the last second.
Lin is now coughing up blood. She burns up the handkerchiefs Bao had given her and on which she had written some short poems. She then collapses back onto her bed.
The wedding ceremony begins. The bride is brought in a palanquin. It's Baochai with her head covered by her wedding headdress. Bao is also brought in. Lin hears the wedding music. She tells Zijuan to take her back and then dies.
Bao uncovers the bride and finds that it is Baochai, not Lin. He is very shocked and asks who is the woman. He has to be told it's Baochai. He says he is going to find Lin, but grandmother says she is very ill. Bao says he also has been very ill and they will both die together.
Bao refuses to eat anything. Baochai says it wasn't her who decided on this marriage trick. She then tells Bao that Lin has died. Bao gets up and rushes to see Lin. At the foot of her deathbed he says: "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry." He faints. There are flashbacks to scenes where the loving couple are together. Bao wakes and now cries. Zijuan tells him that at the end Lin called out his name. Bao takes off walking. A report comes in that a man thought he saw a man who looked like Bao at the base of Wutai Mountain, but he can't swear to that it was Bao.
Bao is at the base of the mountain. He climbs and climbs up the mountain.
This is a love story. It reminds one of Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. Lin and Bao come to love each other, but the family, mostly women, and servants (all women), decide that it would be better if Bao married Baochai, because she comes from a more preferred background. So obstacles are constantly thrown in the way of the couple and the pressure and the disappointment that results leaves both Bao and Lin gravely ill. Anyone could see that the cure would naturally come about by bringing the two together, at least until they recovered their health, if nothing more. But no, the grandmother, mother and aunt, kept scheming to replace Lin with Baochai in the upcoming marriage. The problem is that keeping the two real lovers apart might end in both their deaths. But the women are too wrapped up in their scheming to see clearly what should be done. (It wouldn't take a genius to figure out and the situation remedied, at least as far as the couple's health is concerned.)
There were only two major male characters in the film. All the rest were female. And, frankly, it seemed that the females had near total power, at least in this realm of the family. The females virtually eviscerated Bao's father, when he dared beat Bao with a thick piece of bamboo. And poor Bao could not prevail over his grandmother, mother and aunt either. The women only listened to other women, never asking for any male input at all. That was one of the problems of the segregation of the sexes. The power of the women was what impressed me the most about this film. It was impressive how the women saved Bao from a really bad beating, but it was sad to see them manage Bao's life without any real input from him. I was also impressed by there being so few men in the film.
This isn't really an historical movie, but primarily a love story set in an earlier time.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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