To a Far Distant Place, 1993

Chinese title: 在那遥远的地方 (Zaina yaoyuan de difang)

English title: To a Far Distant Place or In a Distant Land

Director: Teng Wenji

Running time: 90 minutes

Color: Color

Production year: 1993

Production company: Xi’an Film Studio Hong Kong Carnival Film Co., Ltd.

An arthouse biopic set in the 1930s, the film is a romanticized fiction based on the efforts of the famous Chinese musicologist Wang Luobin to collect nationality music and songs from Xinjiang as a music student in the Republican era. Wang is accompanied to Xinjiang by his ailing but devoted fiancée, Jiang Xue, and the film’s title refers to a famous song that he sings on her deathbed. Wang wrote the song in 1938, inspired by a Kazakh folk song that he had collected about an attractive girl who is like sunlight, making all around her happy.

The film includes sub-plots about the hero’s friendship with Kazakhs as well as Uighurs, and an unfulfilled romance with a Tibetan nomad girl whom he meets on the grasslands on his way to Xinjiang.

An academic study of the later controversies surrounding Wang Luobin and his uses of Uyghur folk-song is provided by Rachel Harris in her article, “Wang Luobin: Folk Song King of the Northwest or Song Thief?: Copyright, Representation, and Chinese Folk Songs”, published in Modern China 2005; 31; 381-408.

The opening scenes from To a Far Distant Place, showing Huang as a student in 1930s Beijing, and his elopement with Jiang Xue to the far west of China in search of local songs.

Cast and Crew

Director: Teng Wenji

Screenplay: Wang Shi, Li Hua, Liang Zongzhu, Yu Zhongwei

Photography: Zhi Lei Leading

Cast: Zhang Hongliang, Chen Hong, Zhang Fujian, Hu Jin

Synopsis

In Beiping (now Beijing), Huang Zhong, a young musician, has been longing to collect folk songs in the northwestern part of China. He and his girlfriend, Jiang Xue, love each other deeply; however, she has been left crippled after an accident. Jiang Xue’s parents insist on marrying her to the young master of Fang’s family, but Huang Zhong takes her to a faraway place, thanks to help from a friend who switched the bridal sedan chair. They experience a robbery by bandits at an inn near the foot of the Liupan Mountain in Ningxia, on the way to Xinjiang; fortunately, the shop owner, Wuduomei, rescues them. All of a sudden Jiang Xue finds she is able to stand and walk.

The couple have no resources and make a living by singing in Daban city, and there they met Mehmet, who had sung for them when they had been at the inn near Liupan Mountain. In order to rescue Mehmet’s bride, who has been taken away by Bayi, Huang Zhong and Jiang Xue go to Dihua (today’s Urumqi) to ask an old friend of Jiang Xue’s father, a local commissioner, for help. However, Jiang Xue is detained and Huang Zhong is beaten severely, loses consciousness, and is thrown into a lake. A beautiful Tibetan girl called Dolma saves his life and nurses him back to health.

Yet Huang Zhong still misses Jiang Xue in spite of Dolma’s love for him. After leaving Dolma he is arrested by mistake and put in prison. He is stunned when he hears Mehmet, who had been sentenced to death, singing. Escorted back to Beiping, Jiang Xue is helped by a Kazakh soldier and taken to the grassland. Deeply moved by her story, the Kazakh spares no effort to find Huang Zhong and leads Jiang Xue back to him.

On the grassland, the Kazakh hosts a Kazakh wedding for the couple, but Jiang Xue dies at the wedding. In great grief, Huang Zhong sings the folk song “in a distant land, there is a good girl…” (Synopsis courtesy of http://www.minzufilm.com).