Entering Movie and TV Fields
Classy New Acting and New Productions

For Kuo Hsiao-chuang, 1972 was a new and important year, a year of new ventures and full of bustle and fun.

To Kuo Hsiao-chuang who had already made her name in the Peking opera field, this year was indeed a beautiful dream and fantasy, weaving in succession a real world of stardom.

In this year, the movie industry was gradually changing its style to come out of the decline of sentimental movies, rebuilding new box office for mandarin movies through martial art productions. In the Southeast Asia region in particular, the demand for martial art movies formed a new wave of productions. Therefore, actors who were agile in action skills, especially those who had a martial art grounding, were rising on this trend and becoming popular in the field all at once. Wang Yu, Chen Hsing, Chen Kuan-tai, Cheng Pei-pei, Shang-kuan Ling-feng, etc, had become famous rapidly, taking their places as the main characters of action movies of this period.

Producers in Taiwan and Hong Kong were stretching their feelers into the Chinese opera field in order to look for actors. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's image, martial art skills, talents and overall performance on stage exactly fitted the bill of what the movie field would pay handsomely to secure her services. But after negotiating with several movie companies, Kuo Hsiao-chuang felt that production standards varied a lot, especially there was need to rush working both day and night, unlike the more regular and organized performances of Chinese opera. Moreover, after reading the scripts, she also felt that the substance was very thin and there was just fighting all the time, without due regard in particular to characterization. Hence she could only refuse.

At this juncture, Wang Chuo-han the proprietor of the First Movie Company and Ting Shan-hsi the director were planning to produce the epic "Chiu Chin" and determined to have Kuo Hsiao-chuang as the female lead star. Having talked to the Kuo's father and daughter, they realized that her interest in making movies was not high, so she purposely set strict conditions and demands, and would not make movies if these were not met. So they had to invite Yu Ta-kang specially to persuade her on their behalf. At this point, Kuo Hsiao-chuang also felt that it should be a meaningful thing to play the part of a famous historical figure like Chiu Chin the Lady Hero of the Mirror Lake. And so she agreed to take part in the movie and starred in "Chiu Chin" (called by another name "Heaven and Earth Shaking" in Hong Kong). The male lead was Wang Yu who could immerse himself entirely into the part and they worked together amicably. There were a lot of action scenes with a lot of variety, and furthermore emphasized the demonstration of heroism and righteousness, a veritable epic.

Even though a new comer in movies, Kuo Hsiao-chuang was nevertheless inexperienced in acting. She was trained from childhood in Peking opera, therefore she had no difficulty settling in the fighting scenes from choreographed rehearsals to formal shooting. And she adapted quickly to the most common 'scene jumping' in movies, and could act the part with just the right emotions and expressions. It could be said therefore that she could fully accept and accustom herself to the mode of movie production. What was even more commendable was her spirit of humble learning. She watched as an on-looker the earnest working attitudes of Ting Shan-hsi and Wang Yu, and their analysis and judgement about the movie. She watched the lighting technician's lighting projections and adjustments, the camera man's control of the camera and use of different angles. She wanted to understand the characteristics of movies; how a movie was made. Only after understanding could she fit in and act well in the movie.

In fact, immediately after agreeing to play "Chiu Chin", she had started reading historical materials about Chiu Chin and, basing on these, made an in depth exploration of her character and feelings. She also consulted Professor Yu Ta-kang many times and studied together with him about Chiu Chin¡¦s character and how she should be played. Both Professor Yu and Director Ting had given advice. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's preparation work prior to production was done solidly and beneficially. At first reading of the script, she also time and again raised queries and amendments for improvement, demanding the entire movie to be convincing as far as possible, and could highlight the theme of the times and the dramatic effects it should have.

The life of Chiu Chin the Lady Hero of Mirror Lake was full of emotions, heroism, blood and tears. She went to study in Japan, coming back to China to join the revolution, starting a newspaper in Shanghai, advocating feminist movements, then started a school with military training offered, and thus devoted her efforts in an age of turmoil toward toppling the corrupt Manchu regime. Kuo Hsiao-chuang played such a new woman of the times, starting from outer looks, striving to appear valiant in bearing, looking heroic in spirit, tall and graceful; with her dresses giving an impression of clean simplicity. As regards acting from the inside, she followed Chiu Chin's development in her achievements and the several important phases of her changes in surroundings, having a sure grasp of her character. Calm and cool in face of change, sincere and caring to people, and finally making the supreme sacrifice of giving up her life, Hsiao-chuang's mode of performance was stepping up resistance to outside forces level by level, using fierce fighting sequences to play up the illustration. When events turned bad, her comrades were arrested and killed, she knew she could not hold up the heavens by herself, at this moment her inner feelings were incomparable sorrow. The task of the revolution would have to be left to the next one on the relay team. In this climactic scene, Hsiao-chuang's mode of performance was wave after wave of composed rationality, conveying her fearless dedication and respect toward life, fully demonstrating the heroic spirit of the Lady Hero of Mirror Lake. When the finished movie was shown, Kuo Hsiao-chuang's acting won the acclaim of viewers. Her graceful actions sequences showed that within the fierce martial art movements there was an elegance of Chinese opera dancing. Hence she won the Second "Martial Art Movie Queen" award of Hong Kong in 1972.

When she went to Hong Kong to receive the "Martial Art Movie Queen" award, China TV Company¡¦s planned grand scale period drama TV series of the years "Leaving A Good Name for Eternity" ¡V also invited her specially to play the female lead Princess Te An. So she had to come and go in a hurry, just returning with honors from Hong Kong to Taipei and she had to immediately start shooting at the TV studio. The plot of "Leaving A Good Name For Eternity" was the story of the Chao Family Orphan and Search for the Orphan and Rescue of the Orphan. It was originally an old subject matter for Chinese operas, and Kuo Hsiao-chuang was doing a familiar part with ease. Before that, she had used breaks in Chinese opera performances to make guest appearances in single episode TV dramas "The Song of Chen Yuan-yuan", "Purple Hairpin" and "Hsiao Feng-hsien". Later she had starred in a TV series set in the early Republic period: "Song of the Phoenix", playing the good-hearted Second Daughter with an innocent and lovely image. This was a new attempt for her to join TV serial drama and make an in depth participation in television productions.

"Leaving A Good Name For Eternity" was the first work by producer Lu Chih-tzu when he left Taiwan TV and entered China TV. China TV placed great importance on this project, investing a lot of human and financial resources in the production. Selection of the cast was especially strict, assembling almost all the top names in movie and television circles. Kuo Hsiao-chuang carefully experienced the success of this serial epic of the times, realizing that it was built on the following main conditions:

1. The factor of the script: Though adapted from Chinese opera materials, the task of script writing was not casual at all. The script writers' team comprised 5 people, viz. Chang Yung-hsiang, Chao Chi-pin, Chung Lei, Chu Pai-shui, and Lu Chih-tzu ¡V all were best script writers winning national literature awards, Sun Yat-sen Cultural Awards or the Golden Horse Awards. They maintained a serious attitude from discussion, drafting to finalizing of the script for "Leaving A Good Name For Eternity", seeking the best treatment time and again from the opening, the structure, the development to the ending. In particular, in the ending of each episode, attention was paid as to how to leave a dramatic clasp to attract viewers to continue viewing tomorrow. The script of this serial drama won the rapport of actors and also became a practical model study for drama students.

2. The factor of the cast: Since the cast participating in it were all the choicest of the time, and it was a grand epic, hence the emphasis was on 'ensemble' play, totally different from Chinese opera where the star often played 'solo'. In particular, Cheng Ying played by Ko Hsiang-ting and Kung-sun Chu-chiu played by Lei Ming each had a great scene with every actor playing opposite them. The script writer had designed it well, giving actors scenes for excelling themselves. Only the performance of ensemble play together could create the outstanding effect of an epic. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's Princess had an overview of the whole plot and deeply realized the different terrains of individual performance by an actor and ensemble playing, and their respective pros and cons. This had considerable influence on her later founding of the Ya Yin Ensemble with emphasis on script writing and treatment of actors' performances.

3. The factor of co-ordination: Besides the script and the cast, the set, the props, the costumes, the music and the cinematography, all these were what brought about the triumph of this serial drama. The producers, script writers and director had researched into background materials for the drama, and had made rigorous demands on actual processes, making all workers carefully work together in co-ordination for every scene and every character. Kuo Hsiao-chuang also felt the pressure during shooting. Only demanding oneself to perform earnestly all the time could one achieve the best results, with actors and workers behind the scene co-ordinated seamlessly in a perfect situation. Having experienced this in person, Hsiao-chuang employed the same yardsticks in her own troupe later, making the same demands, showing the same perfection.

No sooner had "Leaving A Good Name For Eternity" been completed, than she went on to play in her second movie "The Robber". It was the same cast as in "Chiu Chin". With her wearing the crown of Martial Art Movie Queen, the movie had a great box office. Although she was still taking part in the performance of the Chinese opera "Eighth Sister Yang" at the time, and she had originally decided not to sign up for any more movies, the movie industry could not dispense with her now. A large troop gathered from the opera troupe, the family and the teachers persuaded her from different directions, asking her to continue making movies. Finding it hard to refuse, Kuo Hsiao-chuang went on to make movies like "Two Dragons Out To Sea", "Tough Guy and Mad Man", "Tiger, Tiger, Tiger" etc. By 1976, she had made a total of over 20 movies. At the busiest time she was making 3 movies simultaneously, rushing by car to location sites from day to night, then going into studios for shooting continuously. She was almost rushing with no control of herself, not having time even for sleep. This illustrated the popularity and significance of action films in the Asian market at that time. During movie filming, she worked long hours with short breaks. Mama Kuo was concerned about her daughter very much, so she kept her company. In the eyes of the workers, this was the most plain and respectable "Mother of a Star". But Kuo Hsiao-chuang was very considerate about her mother. Especially when playing scenes of fist fight combats or sword plays, she would first ask her mother in a circumspect way to keep away, lest the mother might see her daughter engaged in fierce fighting and become anxious and worried for her sake. For though Hsiao-chuang was extremely careful in action sequences, it was still inevitable that while fighting she might by accident sustain bruises and make parents grieve.

At that time, Kuo Hsiao-chuang¡¦s movie making was an easy job. She accepted one contract after another and was indeed unable to stop even if one wanted to. At this important, pivotal moment, Mr Kuo Chin-ho gave his daughter a pep talk. He said:

"Better go back to the stage and concentrate on Chinese opera! Movie making may make more money, and easy money too, but our household is not short of money. And making movies can only be done while you are young. It's not like Chinese opera which you can perform for your whole life!" The father's words were a timely reminder. Even though during these few years of making movies she had nonetheless twice taken part in performances of Chinese opera tours to America, and her operatic art was appreciated by maestro Chang Ta-chien who was living abroad at that time and himself painted a cheongsam with lotus in ink to 'Hsiao-chuang my little friend,' a rare honor that Hsiao-chuang would never forget. And in TV performance, after "Leaving A Good Name For Eternity", she also took part in China TV¡¦s historic epic "Beauty of An Epoch", playing the role of Tung Hsiao-wan. This play told how Shun Chih (the first Manchu Emperor ruling China) overcame hurdle after hurdle to select a Chinese concubine (Tung Hsiao-wan) to enter the palace; and the Queen Mother also overcame all sorts of gossips and married To¡¦erh Kun the Regent. The whole play was rich in drama with climaxes one following another. Hsiao-chuang had a pretty image and mature acting skills, winning acclaim all round. Later she also played in "Conqueror of An Epoch", playing the role of Yu Chi, with many brilliant moving scenes of heart-rending parting opposite Tien Yeh who played the Chu Conqueror.

Taking part in acting in movies and TV drama gave her much food for thought and great impact, especially in communicating techniques of expression, in which respect Kuo Hsiao-chuang had been greatly influenced. The mode of performance in movie and TV was a totally different style and system than that in Chinese opera. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had done an objective analytical study of movie/TV and Chinese opera performances, comparing in detail their similarities and differences, pros and cons, and special characteristics:

1. Chinese opera acting was in proper sequence and step by step, from Scene 1 to Scene 2, right up to the final scene. It followed the logical development of the plot and was acted out accordingly. The emotions in acting were continuous, changing in accordance with the progress of the plot and acting was displayed step by step. Acting in movie and TV was different. It was centered on scenes, not in sequence but jumping around. After the whole movie was shot, then the footages went through the technique of editing and were rearranged in the proper sequence to make a finished movie. Hence during shooting the actors' acting was fragmentary, not a coherent whole, but more close to improvisation. One must first imagine and simulate the scenes before and after the present one, how they would be acted, then plan how the present scene should be acted, so that after editing was done in future, even though the scenes could be seen to be shot at different times, the sequence of the acting in these several scenes was nevertheless a cohesive whole, closely knitted without gaps, and spotlessly perfect! In fact, acting in movies and TV was more difficult. One must have the ability of plunging into the drama and acting at any time. Kuo Hsiao-chuang already possessed this ability of "quickly forgetting the self and immersing into the drama all at once". This should be an accomplishment of modern actors, and was a reward after Kuo Hsiao-chuang had taken part in acting in movies and TV drama.

2. The special characteristic of Chinese opera performing art was the beauty of its images. Its singing style was rendered in songs, its movements were rendered in dance. The actor¡¦s performance, from eyebrows and looks, to gestures, to paces, to waist and limbs, all demonstrated a beauty of the body movements, then through this beauty of body movements to express an action or speech. This elegant form and expression encompassed a concrete movement that could enable others to comprehend. This tradition of beauty in the mind in the art of Chinese opera was unique and irreplaceable. The performing art of movie and television, on the other hand, had its characteristic in formal beauty. Every action and expression was real, visible around us, full of rationalism. In simple terms, movie and TV acting was like everyday life. After acting in movies and on TV, the greatest impact in the heart of Kuo Hsiao-chuang was that while Chinese opera acting emphasized beauty above all, movie and TV acting stressed realism. The difference between the two gave her much food for thought. If Chinese opera art was to pass on down the generations for eternity, to ensure continued performance of Chinese opera art in technological and industrial/commercial societies, then besides maintaining the traditional beauty of images, should one also follow the changes of the times, and inject into Chinese opera the everyday life spirit of seeking realism, the spirit of being rational and logical, and brisk rhythm, so as to allow Chinese opera to have a new life, a new energy, to prevent it from looking its age and showing decline and fatigue. Kuo Hsiao-chuang's mind kept welling up such thoughts, which had in fact become a sense of responsibility for her to reform Chinese opera.

3. The production and acting of movies and TV drama demonstrated an extreme function of "composite arts". From discussing the script, scene divisions by the director, to conferences of the cast, there were actual exchanges of views among scriptwriters, director and actors. Their concepts were communicated among themselves. At the same time, set design, props, costumes, music, and promotion were all included in production meetings, enabling everybody to understand the special characteristics and highlights of this movie. Every department was closely bonded together forming a common artistic whole. This spirit was fully illustrated on the screen. Every scene of a movie or TV drama sought perfection and would not allow the appearance of any blemish. Kuo Hsiao-chuang agreed whole heartedly with this in this respect. It was because in traditional Chinese opera performances there was considerable neglect of "a sense of perfection of the scene". Not only did the orchestra occupy a corner of the stage, shrinking the space for the performing artists, but stage hands went on at any time to move sets, tables and chairs, running to and fro and moving things among actors in full view of the audience, destroying completely the beauty of the whole scene. From now on if Chinese opera was to renovate the performance, attract the younger population, get into the international stage, then it had to build up the integral display of a composite art, and had to recognize and affirm, as well as implement, the basic principle of all was shown in the scene. Only then would Chinese opera have higher hopes and a greater future.

4. The production of movies and TV drama was made up of shot after shot being made. Hence its importance lay in its having shot sequences of close-ups, close shots, medium shots, long shots, etc. The director would formulate various arrangements and combinations according to dramatic, psychological and atmospheric factors, producing different effects of different forces. Among these, the close-up was a special feature of cinematic art. The functions of emphasis, enlargement, exaggeration and highlighting expressed by it was incomparable and nonpareil by other types of artistic works. Chinese opera performance on stage was always a whole view that was fixed. How to produce a dramatic, psychological or atmospheric emphasis and set off by contrast, strengthening the content with effort to make it an expression of the characters, that should be one of the directions in which Chinese opera could strive to improve. Kuo Hsiao-chuang had all the time been deliberating where the close-up shot for Chinese opera was. She understood the function of the close-up in movies and on TV. Besides the shifting and changes of the shot, the use of light and shade, colors and sound effects could equally achieve the function of enlargement and exaggeration as a close-up. Hence to use lighting design and musical effects to go with movements of Chinese opera actors, uniting them meticulously into an integral whole, that might give the audience a feeling of emphasis and highlighting and give a fresh feeling.

Having attempted the new acting skills in movies and television, Kuo Hsiao-chuang kept chewing over these, absorbing the essence and nutriment, and transplanting it to Chinese opera art. She, Kuo Hsiao-chuang, daughter of Chinese opera, was indeed a dedicated one!