Datong: The Great Society's soundtrack was co-composed and performed by Lindzay Chan (bio in Cast and Filmmakers pages) and Charles Teo (bio in Filmmakers page). Additional music features two arias by the great Swedish tenor, Jussi Bjorling, from the Naxos remastering archive.
Beginning with To Liv(e) (1991), Lindzay Chan has been an actress I've been working with closely over the years. About three years ago, she sent me a sample of an ongoing music project for which she had invited composer/music arranger Charles Teo to be her collaborator.* I know that Lindzay sings and appears in occasional cabaret acts, but the one sanskrit chant recording she sent me is really something else. “Gayantri” is strikingly distinct in its velvety vocalism and shimmering East-meets-West arrangement. It has stayed with me and affected the way I envisioned Datong.
Kang Tung Pih is known to have studied “Hindi.” I just wonder whether it could have been sanskrit, because Kang Youwei was deeply interested in Buddhism, which influenced his political and spiritual conception of his Datong. The journey to Nalanda sequence with Tung Pih singing/chanting “Gayantri” became for me the sequence of transformation, which also creates, in the film, the link between myth and reality, drama and documentary. Kang's daughter, draped in a sari and chanting in sanskrit, can morph into the daughter of the Hindu God Indra in Strindberg's magnificent Dream Play.
Tung Pih, just like Indra's daughter, is bound to be a surveyor of human suffering, including her own. She will also discover her humanity, her divinity, and the inexorable passage of time, namely Death. Naturally I envisioned it as a Death and the Maiden scene. What also coagulated around the chants were the theatrical staging involving the ghosts, and the sequence of danse macabre uniting the narrator Chiang Ching on her island and the imaginary ghostly ball in which Kang Youwei, Tung Pih and Liang Qichao also rejoice, or lament. In the back of my mind were, unquestionably, also Strindberg's Dance of Death and The Ghost Sonata, and of course, Bergman's The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries. Strindberg was haunted by death; while Kang Youwei, so many times brushing with death, had to be haunted by it too.
Jussi Bjorling (Additional Music)
The moment I realized that I'll be working on a film set in Sweden, the singing of my beloved Jussi Bjorling started whispering in my ear. Recently I came across an online review by Dan Davis on Naxos' first volume of Bjorling's early recordings collection. Here's how it begins: “Jussi Bjorling was among the best of the great tenors of the past century…The more people are exposed to Bjorling's immediately identifiable, incomparable voice, the better.”**** And I just cannot agree more.
Those earliest Bjorling recordings from the 1920's-1940's, in the Naxos series' Vol 2 and Vol 3, seem close enough to Kang's stay in Sweden (1904-1908) to evoke the era. Chiang Ching, a veteran opera director, was naturally aware of this great tenor, and she alerted me to “Varfor alskar jag?,” a traditional Swedish song. So even if it's not of this Bjorling recording, “Varfor” itself could have been heard by Kang Youwei in Sweden at the turn of the 20th century. It's lucky indeed that the increasingly indispensable label, Naxos, is based in Hong Kong. I've worked with Klaus Heymann, its founder, to license Luba Orgonasova's recording of Mimi's big aria from La Boheme, “Si. Mi chiamano Mimi," for my dramatic feature The Map of Sex and Love (2001). This time I'm working with Klaus' son Rick for licensing the two Bjorling arias – “Varfor alskar jag?” and “nessun dorma.” Their patience and support for independent filmmaking is a bright spot in my struggle to get this film made. If what drove me forward was serendipity – stumbling upon Kang's Swedish journal shortly before my year-long European sojourn; Lindzay's musical project etc. -- what at times consoles me amidst the Sisyphean task of independent filmmaking is also serendipity. I mean I had no idea when I started making the film that it would be completed during the centennial of the Xinhai Revolution, which ended China's millennial monarchy. As it turned out, the film was edited partly through the centennial of Jussi Bjorling, who died too young – in 1960, aged 49. Datong's view of the Xinhai Revolution may be complex and ambivalent, but at least the Bjorling centennial is for me an occasion for unconditional rejoicing. And I'm proud to be part of it.