Ykihi (Princess Yang Kwei-fei) (1955)

 

 

Director:     Kenji Mizoguchi.

Starring:     Machiko Ky (Princess Yang Kwei-fei),  Masayuki Mori (Emperor Xuan Zong),  S Yamamura (An Lushan),  Eitar Shind (Kao Li-hsi),  Eitar Ozawa (Yang Kuo-chung),  Haruko Sugimura (Princess Yen-chun),  Yko Minamida (Hung-tao),  Bontar Miyake (Chen-Hsuan-li),  Tatsuya Ishiguro (Li Lin-fu).

a poor young woman is used by General An Lushan in his rebellion plans against Emperor Xuanzong (ruled 712-756)a poor young woman is used by General An Lushan in his rebellion plans against Emperor Xuanzong (ruled 712-756)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

Two men arrive to take ex-Emperor Xuanzong to the West Palace.  The fellow refuses to go.  He tells the men to tell the Emperor, his son, not to make him feel lonelier than he does already.  He tells the two messengers to get out.  After the men leave, he looks at a statue and says the name of the model for the statute: Kwei Fei.  He wonders if she is watching him from some place. 

Flashback.  The Emperor plays an instrument with a group of musicians.  He wrote the piece they play in honor of his late wife, Wu-hui.  Premier Li comes in to talk with the Emperor.  The Emperor wants to continue playing and is upset when he is reminded that affairs of state come before music.  The Emperor scolds Premier Li for always spoiling his fun.  He walks away.

His right hand man Kao has brought the Emperor a woman who will look after him.  The Emperor says no one could compare with the late Empress.  He walks away from the woman.  The rejected woman, one of the beauties of the capital, feels humiliated and cries. 

Master An Lu-shan arrives.  He was the one who had the young woman sent to the Emperor.  The head of the women of the Yang family is their male cousin Chao, who worries about going out of business.  Chao asks An Lu-shan to take him and give him a job.  An Lu-shan jokingly says he would not hire the man.  Master Kao will be arriving soon.  An Lu-Shan sees a woman working in the kitchen and asks who she is.  The boss says she is his youngest cousin, who is fresh from the countryside.

An Lu-shan goes into the kitchen to talk to her.  Her name is Yu-huan.  He asks her to show him her face.  She doesn't know who he is and tells him she's too busy for that.  So he forcefully grabs her, brings her over to the light, wipes off the smudges on her face and tells her that she is very pretty.  He also tells her that she does not belong in the kitchen.     

The country bumpkin is taken from the kitchen, cleaned up and then dressed up.  She resists this saying that they are just trying to make fun of her.  She only came here because her mother died.  An Lu-shan tells her that this is a big opportunity for her. 

Kao discusses the rejection by the Emperor of the new woman.  He says the Emperor still thinks only of the late Empress Wu-hui.  An Lu-shan says that he thinks he has found another Wu-hui.  He grabs Yu-huan and shows her to the men. 

An takes her to Mt. Li.  The Abbess there, a trusted relative of the Emperor, will arrange the presentation to the Emperor.  An figures he will get a high post for his discovery of Yu-huan.  And maybe Yu-huan will become the empress.  His reward will be as nothing compared to hers, so he says.  The Abbess puts her through a lot of rituals that "cleanses" her of her past.  She is given a maid.  The Abbess tells the Chancellor that she will make Yu-huan into a woman the Emperor will like. 

The Emperor visits the Abbess and Yu-huan is told to come to meet him.  The young woman is worried that if she fails, she will just be added to the Emperor's harem.  Her maid helps Yu-huan cheer up.  The Chancellor brings the Emperor to the Tea House to have tea.  There Yu-huan serves him tea, but the Emperor is too preoccupied with nature and translating its beauty into music to notice Yu-huan. 

The Chancellor takes Yu-huan to the palace and has her sit in the large private room of the Emperor.  The Emperor stumbles upon her and asks who is she?  He also wants to know who brought her here.  Yu-huan does not answer.  The Emperor notices that the young woman does resemble his late wife, but he says he wants something beyond beauty.  He asks her to leave.  She does so, but stops to play a musical instrument.  He notices that she is playing what he composed in the plum grove while visiting the Abbess.  The Emperor says she played the music to try and impress him.  Yu-huan denies this, saying that she just wanted to pacify his lonely heart.  She then goes on to tell him about the puppet masters that made her come here.  She mentions that she is fearful of always remaining someone's puppet.  Yu-huan says she tells the Emperor this because when she saw how he so admired the late Empress, she felt ashamed of herself.  This really impresses the Emperor.  She then says she will go now.  The Emperor stops her saying that she has consoled him with her music playing.  He even seems to think she has some good qualities that his late wife did not.  Now he asks for her name.  It's Yang Yu-huan.  He wants her to stay with him. 

In the morning, Yu-huan bathes in the hot springs pool.  And now she has a great many servants.  Yu-huan learns that she is the first one to use the pool since the death of the Empress. 

An says to Chao he is disappointed that he has to go back to his old post before learning about the fate of Yu-huan.  He is a governor, but says it is a petty post.  He wants the position of Premier Li.  And if it's not the premiership, then he wants the throne.  Chao says she is already the Emperor's mistress, but An is not impressed.  He says any woman can be a mistress.  He wants an empress so he can get a high post in the government.   

Lady Cheng is to be executed for interfering in politics.  The Emperor tries to intercede on her behalf, saying that she only wanted one of her relatives to get a post.  But the official says he is only following the laws that the Emperor himself made.  Yu-huan comes in to ask the Emperor to go with her to the market place to see the Shangyuan Festival (celebration of the first full moon of the New Year).  They go in disguise with only part of their faces showing.  They have to hide as their personal servants pass by them.  She introduces him to some simple pleasures like eating cake pieces piled up on sticks.  The Emperor says he has never felt so free in his life. 

Some men think they are newlyweds and have them drink some liquor drink.  Then they want the couple to dance.  Yu-huan dances while the Emperor plays a song for her.  They stay until almost everyone is gone.  The Emperor says he is very impressed by her dancing ability. 

Minister Yang Kuo-chung (formely Chao) talks to the new Governor-Generals saying that they must protect their northern border.  He says he would prefer to have them make friends with those beyond the borders.  He greets his old friend General An. 

The men clearing the way for the one of the sisters of now Princess Yang Kwei Fei almost cause a riot by kicking people out of her way.  One man takes exception to being pushed down and he starts to fight back.  This leads to a larger brawl and then into a big disturbance.  People say down with the Yangs because they are trying to take over the court.  The other servants have to rush Yang away before she gets hurt.   Someone yells:  "Kill the Yangs!"  The sister is very shaken by the riot.  She is comforted by Kwei Fei. 

Minister Yang Kuo-chung (Chao) tells An that now he himself has a high post: as the Governor-General of three provinces.  An says that is nothing compared to his friend's higher promotion and he wants the man to give him a higher post here in the capital.  The Minister declines. So An tries to put pressure for a promotion on Yu-huan, which makes her feel very uneasy.  He tells her that the whole nation is cursing the name of the Yangs.  The people are mad.  They suffer under heavy taxes and old Chao is filling his pockets with money.  In addition, the four Yang sisters are living in luxury now.  An implies that there could be an uprising against the Yangs and the Emperor.  He wants her to come to his fortress, where she will be safe. 

Kwei Fei tells the Emperor what she has learned.  She tells the Emperor to dismiss her, her sisters and her cousin Minister Kuo-chun.  .  She is afraid for everyone.  The Emperor tells Kwei Fei that she is interfering in affairs of state.  She tells him to punish her, that she doesn't deserve her title.  The Emperor is angry that she says she wants to leave, so he has her sent to his harem.  Kwei Fei cries.

Li comes to the Emperor.  He sees Minister Chao and accuses him of acting like the Premier, taking advantage of Li's illness.  The Emperor silences the two men.  Kao tells the Emperor that instead of going to the harem, Kwei Fei went to the place of her cousin Hsien.  They will bring Kwei Fei back to the palace. 

Kwei Fei is back at the old homestead where she was "discovered" by An, but she is definitely sad.  She sees a recently arrived young woman from the countryside working in the kitchen that reminds her of herself.  Cousin Chao and Kao come and tell her that His Majesty ordered them to bring her back.

An speaks to his troops telling them to destroy the Yangs and save the Empire by giving it a new ruler.  He says they are headed for Changan and they will take the capital. The army is on the march. 

The Emperor flees the capital.  The women prepare food for His Majesty who seems very tired.  Kwei Fei serves him.  The soldiers of the imperial guard kill the other three Yang sisters. They see this as helping His Majesty.  One of the killers shouts why did they flee from the capital without a fight?  Now they want to kill Chao and Kao. 

Premier Chao sends the military commander to Chengtu.   The commander sees that his troops don't want to obey any orders from a Yang.  They rush in and kill Premier Chao.  Now the revolt threatens the Emperor.  Li and the commander run to the Emperor to tell him the four Yangs have been killed.  The soldiers are still not satisfied.  They want to kill Kwei Fei now.  The Emperor says he will not allow it.  He wants to go out to speak to the soldiers.  Li tries to stop him, so the commander kills the "traitor" Li with his sword.   The Emperor goes out to speak to the troops.  They demand Kwei Fei's life

Kwei Fei thanks her servants for their attentiveness to her.  A group of soldiers come for her.  They are going to hang her.  She takes off her coat and shoes.  She gives the hangmen her scarf to use as the rope. 

Kwei Fei's body is brought before the Emperor.  He never wanted this, but did it for his own survival before the mob. 

Back to the present.   Emperor Xuanzong says that An Lushan was soon killed.  And now he is dethroned by the Crown Prince.  Laying down on the floor of his palace room, he hears the voice of Kwei Fei telling him that she has come to take him away with her.  And now their real happiness will come. 

 

Spoiler Warning. Good movie.  Sad movie.  Here's this poor country girl who has just recently come from the countryside to the capital following the death of her mother and she falls under the sway of a puppet master General An Lushan, who is an egomaniac that wouldn't mind taking the throne from the emperor.  He wants to use her to seduce the emperor, who is in a weakened mind set after the death of his most beloved wife, in the hopes that she will become empress.  If he does this favor for her, then he wants her to do favors for him.  Of course, he never makes it clear to the young woman just how ambitious he really is.  Nor does he say she might become a ball kicked around by opposing political forces.  The youngster has no idea what she is getting herself into.  And who can she turn to for advise?  Just family members who greedily hope that when she becomes empress, she will help them get high posts in the government.  

The poor young woman also never thought that if things go badly wrong, she and her family might be made the scapegoats for what has gone wrong.  Events are set into motion that are going to roll over those involved and they become puppets themselves of these larger forces set into motion.  Moral of the story:  look before you leap.  And maybe:  beware of overly ambitious people who will do anything to gain power, wealth and status. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

 


Historical Background:

618-665  --  Tang Dynasty.

665-705 --  Zhou Dynasty.

685  -- birth of the future Emperor Xuanzong of Tang, son of the future Emperor Ruizong of Tang. 

710-907  --  Tang Dynasty continuation.

710-712  --  reign of Emperor Ruizong of Tang.

712-756 rule of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (or Emperor Ming of Tang), the seventh emperor of the Tang dynasty in China. His wife Princess Wang becomes Empress Wang.  (Partly because she never had a son, Empress Wang lost favor to Consort Wu.)

By 722  --  Empress Wang loses favor to consort Wu, a great-grandniece of Emperor Xuanzong's grandmother Wu Zetian.

724  --  Empress Wang deposed and reduced to commoner rank.  Later in the year the now former Empress Wang dies.  It is said that after the death of Empress Wang, Emperor Xuanzong regretted his treatment of her.  Consort Wu became the dominant mistress of the palace and was treated like an empress, but the Emperor would never make her Empress, because of possible problems arising from such an appointment.

733 at age 16 Yang Yuhuan married the son of Emperor Xuanzong and Consort Wu, Li Mao, the Prince of Shou and became the Princess of Shou.

737 death of Consort Wu. Emperor Xuanzong was very upset at the loss of his then-favorite concubine.

An emperors eunuch Gao Lishi brings Princess Yang into the palace where she meets Emperor Xuanzong. The emperor was so impressed by her that he wanted her to be his wife, but she was already married to his son. To get around that Emperor Xuanzong had her made a Taoist nun with the name Taizhen. Then he made Princess Yang his favorite concubine matching in influence of the late consort Wu.

By 742 the main Tang forces were concentrated on the border.

Military leader An Lushan rose up through the ranks to prominence by defending the north eastern border from the Khitan and others. He also gained the favor of Chancellor Li Linfu and Emperor Xuanzong. The Emperor even took An Lushan as his son.

An Lushan had two main rival generals: Geshu Han and Yang Guozhong.

753  --  the death of the influential Chancellor Li Linfu.  The three rival generals compete for power.  The promotion of Yang Guozhong to Chancellor brings about the catastrophic An Shi Rebellion.

755-763  --  the An Shi Rebellion.  An Lushan starts the rebellion.

756 --  Emperor Suzong of Tangthe, son of Emperor Xuanzong, ascends to the throne after his father fled to Sichuan during the An Shi Rebellion in 756.

756  --  An Lushan creates the state of Yan.   

757 the retired Emperor, without consulting Emperor Suzong, made Li Lin chancellor.

757  --  An Lushan favored his son An Qing'en over another son An Qingxu. An Qingxu feared that An Lushan would have him executed. Therefore, An Qingxu plottedto have An Lushan assassinated. Li Zhu'er killed him with a sword.

763 state of Yan extinguished, along with the An Shi Rebellion, when the son of An Lushan's subordinate Shi Siming, named Shi Chaoyi, last Emperor of Yan, is killed.

 

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