The Romeo and Juliet of the Far East
I found on youTube this morning a video dedicated to a famous Hong Kong actress of the fifties and sixties, and to a famous movie of that period. Both of them came as a surprise: till this morning, the name of the movie (梁山伯與祝英台 - Liang Shan Bo yu Zhu Ying Tai in Pinyin transliteration, The Love Eterne, as it is known internationally), as well as the name of the actress (Betty Loh Ti - 樂蒂 in traditional hieroglyphs, 乐蒂 in simplified hieroglyphs, Lè Di in Pinyin transliteration), were complete strangers to me.
The video was wonderfully made (unfortunately it cannot be embedded here), which pushed me to find more information. All comments of the video were in Chinese, so I had to work a little with babelfish to have an English translation, then I looked on imdb and wiki, till I got the sense of it.
First of all about the actress: this Betty Loh Ti was really a person of incredible beauty. She had been born in Shanghai in 1937. In 1949 she moved to Hong Kong and started to play in movies in 1952: she was only fifteen by then. Her career summed 44 films, and the role in The Love Eternal was among her greatest successes.
Betty Loh Ti died very young, in 1968 (she was only 31). As it happens, her life passed in legend and her death remained veiled in mystery; rumor is that it was suicide, but this is debatable.
As for the movie, it had quite a story, beside the story within it. Made in Hong Kong in 1963 it had an astonishing success in Taiwan, Taipei becoming a crazy city with lots of people watching the movie over hundred times. It was considered the Romeo and Juliet of the Far East, the Gone with the Wind of the Mandarin World, people were humming its songs on the streets, it got all possible awards (best film, best director, best actress, best music, etc) and it remained in Taiwan collective memory as a legendary blockbuster.
The movie was telling a Chinese classical folk tale, The Butterfly Lovers: a girl (played by Betty Loh Ti) took the guise of a boy to be able to study at college. There she met a real boy and felt in love, only the boy was too naive to realize that she was a girl. Eventually he understood but it was already too late: meanwhile her parents had arranged a marriage. The boy died of sorrows, the girl followed him in death, from their tomb two butterflies emerged and flied towards heavens.
What is interesting, that the male role was played also in travesty! Here are two videos where actress Ivy Ling Po (who played the boy) is telling about the making of the movie: