Friday, October 3, 2008

Ma-Xu Weibang

Ma-Xu Weibang was a film director active in the mainland during the 1920s through 1940s, and later in Hong Kong, perhaps best known for his work in the horror genre, the most important unarguably being the Phantom of the Opera-inspired, ''Song at Midnight''. Ma-Xu was also known for a few acting roles early in his career, as well as for being a screenwriter. The director of 33 known films, much of Ma-Xu's early work has been lost.

Ma-Xu was born Xu Weibang in 1905 in Hangzhou, Zhejiang. Little is known of this early period except that his parents died while Ma-Xu was still a child, which was said to influence his decision to incorporate his wife's surname, "Ma".

Career in film

Ma-Xu studied at the Shanghai Institute of Fine Arts in the early 1920s. Following his graduation, he began working as an actor for the Mingxing Film Company, his first film being Zhang Shichuan's ''The Marriage Trap'' in 1924. Following a brief stint in the short-lived Langhua Film Company where he directed his first film in 1926, Ma-Xu returned to Mingxing where he began serving as assistant directors for some of the more established talent. His thriller, ''The Cry of Apes in a Deserted Valley'' is the only one of these directorial efforts to have survived.

Ma-Xu's first real success, however, did not come until 1937 with ''Song at Midnight'', often referred to as China's first horror film. Based on Gaston Leroux's classic , the film is now seen as part of the canon of early Chinese cinema, and was also remade as ''The Phantom Lover'' by Ronny Yu in 1996. Ma-Xu followed up ''Song'' with two additional horror films, ''Walking Corpse in an Old House'' and ''The Lonely Soul'' . In 1941, he made a lackluster sequel to ''Song at Midnight'' , and also co-directed with Bu Wancang the controversial Japanese propaganda film '''' .

Like Bu, Ma-Xu suffered for his work on ''The Opium War'' after the Japanese were defeated and was eventually forced to move to Hong Kong where he continued to work in the film business until 1961, when he was killed in a road accident.


Note: in most early Chinese films, there often were no official English translations, leading to a sometimes confusing lack of consistency in titles.

No comments: