Director – Weibang Ma-Xu
Writing credits – Gaston Leroux (novel) and Weibang Ma-Xu
Music – Zengfan Zhang
Director of Photography – Xingsan Yu
Editor – Fuzeng Lin
Set Designers – Yiyan Mou and Yongyuan Zhong
Following the success of Song at Midnight in 1937, Ma-xu Weibang went on to become a brand name in the Chinese film industry. Despite the constraints and hardships caused by the Sino-Japanese war and the civil strife between different political factions, he directed four more films before setting his mind to a sequel. Was the choice dictated by the desire to bank on a sure hit to revive his and his studio’s finances in dire times? Or was it rather that the subject allowed for the articulation of an explicit political thesis in support of the Nationalist cause?
Whatever the answer, one senses that the immediate political context played a role. Supported by a new cast and able to work both in studio and in striking outdoor locations, this sequel is a work of remarkable polish. The camera work is fluid and confident, the editing seamless, and the make-up and sets as skilfully realised—and structurally significant—as in the 1937 film. The key offering in this respect is the extravagant flashback sequence in which Song Danping tells the story of his second disfigurement at the hands of a crazed, morbid old doctor (the setting is an operating room straight out of Frankenstein!). As in the earlier film, the love story between Song and Li also takes centre stage by way of a twist worthy of a serial novel.
The insistent references to the Nationalist cause complicate the narrative somewhat unnecessarily, however. To be sure, avoiding the intertwined issues of politics and the survival of the nation might have been deemed outright irresponsible. Even when extrapolated from the admittedly extreme circumstances in which the film was produced, the political subplot is in keeping with a longstanding tradition of didacticism in Chinese film, theatre and of course literature. All of which makes one wonder whether the development of an unabashed horror tradition would have ever been possible in China irrespective of the severity—and the actual horrors—of the 1937-1945 war and the struggle that eventually led to the proclamation of the PRC in 1949.