At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


Almost any Mandarin, Cantonese, or Japanese movie which seeks to capture the tone of the pre-war years in China will at some point feature the song 'When Wilt Thou Return' (何日君再來 "hé rì jūn zài lái") which has been sung by many stars since the mid-thirties, when the tune was composed by 劉雪庵 ("Liú Xuě-ān") during a party for students at the Shanghai Conservatory. The lyrics were subsequently written by 黄嘉謨 ("Huáng Jiā-mó").

The three most well-known renditions were by Chou Hsuen (周璇 "Zhōu xuán"), Lei Heung-lan (李香蘭 "Li Xiāng-lán", aka Ri Koran, Yoshiko Yamaguchi, Shirley Yamaguchi, 山口淑子), and Teresa Teng (鄧麗君 "Dèng Lì-jūn").
The first named actress was famous for her winsome performance in several films, but more for her lovely evocation of womanhood in song. The second was stellar, but connections with the Japanese war-machine shadowed her reputation, and her pre-war achievements are now largely ignored. And the third was beloved in Japan as well as by Island and Mainland audiences, though the song itself was at various times banned for its perceived propaganda content.

[Please note: phonetic transcriptions in this essay will largely reflect the Mandarin standard, as the subject matter is associated with the north. Cantonese sounds in the title of the post are a personal failing, rendering Li Koran as Lei Heung-lan similarly is a fond deviance.
And "Chou Hsuen" is a standard though incorrect spelling.]

There is no need to actually embed the videos -- and copyright stalinists would have those accounts taken down at some point anyhow -- but for all three of them copy-paste 何日君再來 followed by the name of the singer.

The song is nowadays played slower and more weepy than was originally intended. For a Western Audience the most well-known renditions are in the 1995 film by Zhang Yimou (張藝謀), Shanghai Triad (搖啊搖,搖到外婆橋).

It was originally featured in the movie 'Three Stars by the Moon' (三星伴月 "Sān xīng bàn yuè") in 1937, sung by miss Chou. The Manchurian Japanese Lei Heung-lan subsequently covered it, most notably in the 1952 film 'Shanghai Night' (上海の夜 "Shanhai no yoru") reprising her own past.

Teresa Teng's sweet-sounding version was banned on the mainland for a number of years, considered nought more than foul propaganda. The regime across the straights also excoriated it for the same reason.

Along with a few other songs (好花不常開,夜上海,et carmina simili), it is de rigueur in any cinematographic treatment of nineteen thirties and forties Shanghai. Along with, of course random stock footage of a chorus line (fluffy feathers and shapely dancing gams!) in a nightclub scene. Its inclusion will awaken an almost instinctive response in the experienced film fan.

We cannot help the instinctive response; conditioning.
The rest of you may be rather baffled by this.

We've seen too many black and whites.
The music fills in the colours.

Sorry if we go all weird.
It will soon pass.

This article brought to you courtesy of the remembrance of a big honking show-off ivory cigarette holder flaunted by a crime boss in a Hong Kong gangster movie set in 1930's Shanghai. He was a right bastard, very well played by an actor specializing in such roles whose name I cannot recall.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


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