They fell in love in Taiwan in the 1940s. But after the man was forced to flee to the Chinese mainland, and all contact between them was cut dead, they had to bury their passion deep in their hearts. The "wait for me" pledge they made to each other led to a wait that stretched nearly sixty years.
On mainland screens from Friday, the movie The Knot, starring popular mainland actor Chen Kun and Taiwanese actress Vivian Hsu, is a simple love tale that will bring tears to the eyes of lovers everywhere, but particularly broken-hearted people that have lived through similar experiences.
Media promotion in advance of the opening has been intense, with the movie being dubbed "a Chinese love epic in a time of war."
"The older generation will recognize certain scenes, and the younger generation will discover the historical backdrop to the love story," said director Yin Li. "But the movie is for everyone from eight to eighty-eight — it is a story of love thwarted and the honoring of a lover’s promise which will touch everyone’s heart."
A TALE ONLY TOO COMMON
Relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan were tense when the Kuomintang retreated to the island in the 1940s after being beaten by the Chinese Communist Party. Communications were virtually cut off in the early days.
"Many loving couples were torn apart by the Taiwan Strait. Their tears trickled into the sea that separated them. It’s a Chinese tragedy," said Zhang Kehui, author of Taiwan Tales, a novel that provided material for the screenplay. He is also vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.
Zhang, 58, a Taiwanese who experienced the turbulent years on both sides of the Strait, says the movie resonates powerfully with the lives of many older Taiwanese now living on the Chinese mainland.
He said he was inspired by a notebook kept for decades by an old Taiwanese — a parting-gift to the young man from his girl when he left Taiwan for the mainland. "On the preface, there are hand-drawn roses and a little poem, saying she would wait to be reunited," Zhang said.
The movie opens in the 1940s when Wang Biyun (played by Vivian Hsu), the daughter of a wealthy Taiwan family, falls in love with her home tutor Chen Qiushui (played by Chen Kun).
Chen leaves Taiwan for the mainland after the island’s uprisingon Feb. 28, 1947, fearing persecution. He then joins the Chinese army, fights in the Korean War, and afterwards goes to live in Tibet as a doctor. He marries a nurse called Chen but his love for Wang never falters.
On the other side of the Taiwan Strait, Wang looks after Chen’s aging parents and remains single and lonely. She waits nearly sixty years for Chen’s return.
FILM CREW BANNED FROM ENTERING TAIWAN
Chen faced huge difficulties trying to reenter Taiwan, and so did the film crew.
Both of the film crew’s applications to enter Taiwan — one for shooting scenes and the other for promotion work — were turned down by Taiwan authorities who claimed that the movie had not passed the censorship because its description of the "Feb. 28 Uprising" was "not factual".
The Chinese mainland views the uprising as "a large-scale democratic patriotic movement that fought against the imposition of dictatorship on Taiwan", but some pro-"Taiwan independence" people label it as the beginning of the "Taiwan independence movement."
Criticism of the ban has been voiced on the mainland and in Taiwan.
"Taiwan’s cross-Strait cultural policies are inappropriate and regressive," said Li Weiyi, spokesman of the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council. "The mainland’s policy is more open."
KISSES FOR DISCOUNTS
For most ordinary Chinese, the movie is not about politics but a long-awaited blockbuster with top stars and a familiar and yet exotic love tale. Few people these days can wait decades for their loved ones.
People nowadays have many choices. Love is subject to all sorts of temptations, said the director, but perseverance in love as demonstrated in the movie will definitely touch people’s tender feelings.
He said male lead Chen Kun at first had difficulties coming to terms with a love that seemed made only of shadows and memories but was gradually moved.
"The movie reminds us what it means to cherish someone," said Taiwanese actress Vivian Hsu. "Today, people love themselves more. This movie teaches us about caring for others," she told media during a promotional trip.
"People who believe in true love will like the movie," Yin said.
Advance sales for the movie have been going well, with the New Film Association in Beijing taking in 500,000 yuan at the box office even before the film opens. Cinema ticket prices cost 40 yuan on average.
In a marketing gambit, the New Film Association is offering couples who hug or kiss outside any one of more than 30 Beijing cinemas a 10 yuan discount per ticket.
Gao Jun, an executive of the New Film Association grouping these cinemas, said the move was not just a publicity stunt to promote the film. "It is an attempt to arouse tender feelings among loved ones," he said. "The winners will be those who do not begrudge showing their affection to their lovers".