Narrators: Syou-ling Fu, Daxing Chang.
With: Alan Chow, Lu Wenchin, Mei Shaowu, Wen Ruhua, Song Xiaochuan, Gold Star.
Extensive and fascinating archive footage is the main feather in the hat of “The Worlds of Mei Lanfang,” a docu on China’s most internationally known exponent of Peking Opera. Hourlong item is solid pubcaster and cable fare.
The scion of a Beijing theatrical family, Mei (1895-1961) was already famous by age 17 as a specialist in female roles, causing an outbreak of “Mei Lanfang fever” during a spell in Shanghai and in the early ’30s touring the U.S., where he was welcomed by Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford in Hollywood. On a later trip to the Soviet Union, Eisenstein filmed him in performance. After refusing to pander to the Japanese, Mei later supported the Communists, who treated him with special respect till his death from a heart attack in 1961. Pic’s largely workmanlike narration demeans its subject in a final 10 minutes which strays into a discussion of “gayness” and gender issues that have everything to with contemporary psycho-babble and nothing to do with Mei. Descriptions like “a kind of Rudolph Valentino in drag” are also unworthy of the subject matter. Interviewees, including Mei’s son, Mei Shaowu, are variable to OK.