I’m sure you remember Lon Chaney’s Phantom of the Opera, right? Disfigured man who lives in a theatre, falls for an opera singer that sings there and ruins any chances of her happiness to ensure that they are together? Well, this is kinda sorta a remake/adaptation of that film. Ma-Xu Weibang’s Song at Midnight is when a disfigured revolutionary living at an old theatre seeks the help of an actor to reunite him with his girlfriend.
So the main character Song Dangping was a revolutionary tragic hero whose enemies, jealous of the love he had for Miss Li, doused him in nitric acid, leaving him disfigured. He did not want his girlfriend to see him so he pretended that he died but still sings out the window to her every night to improve her mental state (how romantic! If only all men today could do this to please a woman!). There are definitely similarities between this and The Phantom of the Opera where a disfigured man is trying to reach out to the woman he loves in an ancient theatre where he seeks safe shelter but the shallow public sees him as nothing more than a monster. Maybe at first when you’re seeing this film, you’re think “You idiot! Who cares if you’re disfigured? Be with the woman you love!” But remember the time setting that this film took place in. Not everyone can look past appearances. Plus, once you see the way he looks, I’m sure you would run too at first glance! That’s what makes the story all the more sad!
This film is considered the first Chinese horror film. Well, in today’s standards it would not be considered horror. There are no serial killers out to get you, no monsters, no torture devices, and no jump scares to give you nightmares. But the horror elements come into the scene differently than we’re used to such as when Song slowly takes off the bandages and walks to the mirror to reveal his new face, looking completely unrecognizable with his face looking like it’s barely there. The makeup looks fantastic as if the acid really did disintegrate his face! Also, even the scene when Miss Li is told that Song died and her psychological reaction as the room spins around her and blood spews out of her mouth is just as horrific as well. This was a sad story in which we feel this love story between Song and Miss Li and the whole time we are just rooting for a reunion! Song at Midnight was remade twice in both Shanghai and in Hong Kong. The Chinese took all of these familiar elements and made it their own story by putting in a political subplot of the dire consequences of rebelling against the government. This is just one out of the many films that defined Chinese cinema.
Watch this tragic story unfold below and please feel free to comment: