Peking Opera’s Historical Origins

Enter the Forbidden City is an elegant Chinese period drama from filmmaker Mei Hu. Set over 200 years ago during the Qing Dynasty, two opera singers risk their careers and even their lives performing for the emperor. Smoothly written by Jingzhi Zou (The Grandmaster), the passionately-told story details the fascinating origins of Peking Opera. The roots of Hong Kong’s successful cinema industry can be traced back to the art form.

Leading cast members include Dalong Fu, Yili Ma and Jinghan Ma. It’s a fine cast well-suited to their roles. They help bring the characters to life, especially the sensitive performance from Dalong Fu. Production values are superb for a dialogue-driven period drama about opera performers. The colorful outfits they wear jump off the screen in vivid quality.

While celebrating the emperor’s 80th birthday, opera troupes from across China are invited to Beijing to perform for the Emperor. A rising but troubled performer named Runsheng (Jinghan Ma) is mentored by Yue Jiu (Dalong Fu), once the most famous opera singer in Imperial China. Now disgraced, Yue Jiu was banished from the Forbidden City years ago for performing banned and vulgar works. Both men are willing to risk it all if they can perform on stage in the Forbidden City.

Enter The Forbidden City is an unassuming but heart-felt tale of redemption

Enter The Forbidden City is an unassuming but heart-felt tale of redemption. A couple of detours not withstanding into Runsheng’s tumultuous love life, there is a focus on the life of a star performer in an early troupe before the art would become the hugely influential Peking Opera we know today. The point is made that opera performers and actors were considered no better than prostitutes by the government and society at the time.

The romantic sub-plots with Runsheng are strange and feel like last-minute additions. Runsheng eloping with a girl he’s not supposed to marry will likely be met with eye rolls by Western audiences – he kidnaps her before she agrees to marry him. The diversion takes up most of the first act, though it does set up Runsheng’s journey towards stardom.

Vividly capturing the early years of Peking Opera with sincere characters and lavish production values, Enter The Forbidden City is a journey back to the past worth visiting. Captivating subject matter and well-honed craftsmanship combine for a fine Chinese movie.

Video

Despite using MPEG-2 for compression, Enter The Forbidden City’s capable cinematography and lavish production design come off nicely on Blu-ray. Its visual appeal is primarily due to the colorful and vivid costumes worn by performers, highlighted in clean and pristine 1080P video. The digital color grading doesn’t push gradients too far and saturation is consistently excellent.

There’s no crushing but shadow delineation is limited at times, especially in the opening act. The 2.35:1 aspect ratio is nicely composed in the expansive setting, moving from the emperor’s Forbidden City to rural settings with ease. The softest scenes involve too much CGI work when introducing Runsheng’s dramatic story.

Distributed by Cinema Libre Studio, the California-based label does serviceable work on the Chinese import’s transfer and presentation. The sharp-looking movie offers generous detail in mostly pleasing clarity. The main feature runs 112 minutes on a BD-25. It’s a competently executed disc with technically solid picture quality.

Audio

Enter The Forbidden City arrives on Blu-ray with a quiet 5.1 PCM soundtrack. The Chinese soundtrack is mastered at such low volume that users may have to turn it up nearly as loud as their systems allow. It’s a subdued mix largely focused on prioritizing dialogue and the traditional Chinese music instruments. The recording is clean and full. Dynamic peaks are rarely tested with adequate LFE for a few select scenes. Surrounds are there for instrumental support, creating a slightly more expansive soundstage.

Optional English SDH subtitles play in a yellow font outside the 2.35:1 widescreen presentation. They are separate from the English subtitles in white, which can’t be defeated or turned off. A secondary 2.0 PCM soundtrack in Chinese is available.

Extras

Having only released a handful of Blu-rays from their small catalog of independent films and foreign cinema, this is the first disc I’ve come across from Cinema Libre Studio. The only special features on the disc are a handful of trailers. The BD is coded for all regions.

Enter The Forbidden City Trailer (01:03 in HD)

Cinema Libre Studio Trailers (06:59 in HD) – At War, Imprisoned, and Olvidados all play before the main menu; they are also available from the menu’s options.

Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.

Enter the Forbidden City
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3

Movie

Peking Opera’s historical origins receive an opulent costume drama with well-crafted characters and decent storytelling.

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User Review
4 (2 votes)

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