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Directed by Johnny Ma

Cast: Dan Dan, Lao Wu, Zhao Li

Official Selection, 2019 Cannes Director’s Fortnight

For Zhao Li, Sichuan opera isn’t just a family business – it’s her lifeblood. She’s certainly not in it for the money. What few who show up for the theater’s performances are the neighborhood elders: faithful but quickly aging out. Meanwhile, the performers in her troupe have an eye on more lucrative stagecraft: her husband considers doing touristy “mask-changing” acts, her young niece moonlights as a pop singer. When Zhao Li receives the devastating news that her theater is about to be demolished by the government, she keeps it a secret, not simply to protect troupe morale, but to delay everyone’s inevitable departure.

Clenching the secret in one hand, and appealing the government bureaucracy with the other, Zhao Li is a tenacious everyday hero for a vanishing China. Director Johnny Ma (Old Stone, SDAFF ’16) populates her world with specters of the opera: colorful figures who playfully appear in dream-like asides to remind her that facing the music need not mean forgetting it. We soon come to view Zhao Li’s life as an epic opera of the heart, as fable-like and romantic as the Butterfly Lovers her players perform onstage. There is showmanship, heartache, and whimsy. There is also family: the realization that losing value in society is not nearly as bad as not having friends, collaborators, and loved ones to fight for. 

Brian Hu

Admission includes special receptions:
5:30PM–7:00PM Pre-Screening Reception
9:00PM–11:00PM After Party

Co-Presented by House of China, Avery Tsui Foundation

Dates & Times


San Diego Natural History Museum

Sat, Nov 16
7:00 pm