Known for its accessibility, humor, and charm, Flowers as Matchmakers 花为媒 is often considered the best film adapted from Chinese operas. It ranks in the top 20 of all mainland films on audience review site Douban, and it’s apparent from start why the film is so highly praised.
The script by Cheng Zhaocai and Wu Zuguang packs the story with humor, catchy lines, and updated values to make the story fit for a modern audience. The brilliant performances by its stars, most notably its prima donna Xin Fengxia and comedic actress Zhao Lirong, fills the film with joy. Ping opera pronunciation is almost identical to standard Mandarin, so it’s a lot easier to enjoy than other opera types for most Mandarin speakers. And you’re going to want to sing-along because the songs are very, very catchy.
When the charming Zhang Wuke (Xin Fengxia) is rejected in marriage by the wealthy Wang Junqing, she goes to meet him to change his mind. However, Wang Junqing’s heart is already promised to Li Yu’e (Li Yilan). To save the potential match, his cousin Jia Junying goes in his place to meet Zhang Wuke. Tricked into thinking Jia Junying is Wang Junqing, Zhang Wuke agrees to marry him.
Meanwhile, Li Yu’e takes things into her own hands and shows up as Zhang Wuke for the wedding. When the two women meet at the wedding, they are immediately stricken by each other’s beauty and grace and team up to find out what’s up.
The script is extremely well adapted. Even in the opening, you can see how the script has taken on new influences for the times with an almost Shakespearean prologue that serves as not only an exposition but also an abstract for the story.
The original story itself is loosely based on a story from The Strange Tales of Liaozhai, but has been significantly modernized over the years. Whereas in the original opera and the story, the two women married the same male lead, the revised script added a second male lead character and put the focus on the women’s self-determination in marriage. The two men are put in the background as both women try to take the reins of their own marriages. When they misunderstood the male lead to be cheating on them with each other, they both decide to dump him at the same time. The revised script from 1963 somehow features more strong-willed women than many modern scripts. Althought like most modern scripts, the film is still solidly based on the premise that a happy future requires romantic love. But then, it is a romance.
The lyrics are also quite brilliantly written, including the following piece known for its use of twenty-three anadiplosis in a row below. The clip depicts the two women first meeting each other on wedding day and being stricken by each other’s beauty and grace.
This was my first film by Ping Opera diva Xin Fengxia, and it’s obvious even to a first-time viewer why she is such a diva. Given that one of the first scenes of Zhang Wuke is a four-minute song of her praising herself in the mirror, the charm of Xin Fengxia really carries the film. While I’m in no position to comment on her opera skills, her lines and expressions are brimming with brilliance. Every scene with her is just such a joy to watch and listen to.
The comedic timing of the four comedic characters brings plenty of playful banter to the film. The feisty mother and uptight father of Li Yu’e are hilarious with their family dynamics, while Zhao Lirong is as brilliant as usual in her role as matchmaker.
While the overall plot is simple, the charm of the music, the script, and the cast make the film a joy to watch. Plus, even for someone with zero Ping Opera experience, the opera pieces are extremely catchy and makes you want to hum along.