Module 6: Song at Midnight (1937)

Song at Midnight 1937 woman in white
A horror-musical! Nosferatu (1922) and Phantom of the Opera (1925) inspired Song at Midnight’s premise and genre atmospherics, but this film has a lot more going on, including a convoluted revolutionary backstory for the maimed “phantom” and a violent love triangle. The marketing campaign claimed that the film scared a child to death.

This module corresponds to chapter 7 in the book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949.

The film:

Yeban gesheng
118 minutes
Director: Ma-Xu Weibang
Studio: Xinhua
Music: Sinn Sing Hoi (Xian Xinghai)
Lyrics: Tian Han
Cast: Hu Ping, Jin Shan, Zhou Wenzhu, Shi Chao, Xu Manli, Gu Menghe, Wang Weiyi
English subtitles translated by Christopher Rea

Video lecture 1: Historian of the Strange

17 minutes

Contents:

  • The sensational marketing and release of a “horror blockbuster”
  • An influential film of many sequels and adaptations
  • Plot summary
  • Spooky atmospherics, drawing on German Expressionism, Nosferatu, Phantom of the Opera, and the art of Lon Chaney
  • Genre mix of music, horror, and revolution

Video lecture 2: The Horror of Historical Violence

12 minutes

Contents:

  • The horror of historical violence
  • Multiple climaxes and unveilings of hideous figures
  • Political messaging on the eve of war
  • Song at Midnight as a political allegory

Learn more:

Scenes from Song at Midnight

An animated studio logo establishes the ambiance of the film:

“Song at Midnight” theme song:

The Angel Theatrical Troupe arrives at the theater in the rain:

The Angel Theatrical Troupe is given a tour of the abandoned theater by its ancient caretaker:

Sun Xiao’ou sings “Love on the Yellow River”:

Sun Xiao’ou encounters a mysterious hooded figure in the tower room of the theater:

The climactic unveiling of Song Danping’s disfigurement:

A mob chases Song Danping to his death:

Comparisons with other films

Compare the scenes of a woman in white (Xia) on a balcony in Song at Midnight with Ellen’s sleepwalking scene from Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror (1922):

Compare the scene of Xia awakening from her dream at the end of Song at Midnight with Ellen’s awakening after the death of the vampire in Nosferatu:

The first unveiling of the disfigured man occurs precisely at the midpoint of both Song at Midnight and one of its key intertexts, The Phantom of the Opera (1925), starring Lon Chaney. Here is the unveiling scene in Phantom:

Gu Menghe, who plays the dastardly villain Tang Jun in Song at Midnight, appeared in a comic role a couple years earlier in Yuan Muzhi’s City Scenes (1935):

Xinhua Studio, which produced Song at Midnight, during the war was incorporated into S.K. Chang’s (Zhang Shankun) new Hwa Cheng Studio, which produced another hit film featuring disguise and transformation, Hua Mu Lan (1939):

Jin Shan, who plays Song Danping in Song at Midnight, went on to direct the civil war-era masterpiece, Along the Sungari River (1947).

Related Posts


Hua Mu Lan 木蘭從軍 (1939)
A young woman takes her father's place in the army and protects the Tang empire from invaders in this wartime adaptation of the Mulan legend.

Hua Mu Lan 1939

Street Angels 馬路天使 (1937)
Zhou Xuan sings two hit songs in this social drama by experimental filmmaker Yuan Muzhi, costarring heartthrob Zhao Dan.

Street Angels 1937 still

Song at Midnight 夜半歌聲 (1937)
Phantom of the Opera and Nosferatu meet underground revolutionary history in China's first horror-musical.

Song at Midnight 1937