Revolution and Revulsion: Ideology, Monstrosity,
and Phantasmagoria in Ma-Xu Weibang’s Film Song at Midnight

By Yomi Braester

Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 81-114

The paper addresses the role of monstrosity in the revolutionary rhetoric of the 1930s. How does revolution stage itself as a theatrical spectacle? Why should the promise of social utopia be conveyed through images of deformity? I explore these questions through Maxu Weibang’s film Yeban gesheng (Song at Midnight, 1937). Despite its left-wing pedigree, Song at Midnight is hard to classify. The revolutionary hero is fashioned after the title-role of The Phantom of the Opera, resulting in a curious grafting of the Hollywood horror genre and Chinese Marxist discourse. The protagonist’s scar connotes the triumph of ideology, yet it is also shown as a repugnant bodily mark. The fashioning of revolution through the hero’s unseemly mutilation signals the inner contradictions of Marxist utopia and betrays deep-rooted doubts about the power of revolutionary action. The movie challenges in particular the claim that art is the potent voice of coming social reform and concedes that the masses, like the film viewers, look for entertainment rather than revolutionary zeal.