Visitors on the Icy Mountain
Liang Yin, Abudoulimiti, Gu Yuying
Director: Zhao Xinshui
Part spy thriller, part love story, all propaganda, this classic Xinjiang-set drama is a top example of pre-Cultural Revolution-era ethnic cinema. The Changchun Studio production is a paean to the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and the harmony between natives grateful for their liberation and the troops protecting them from reactionary plotters.
As is the case with so many mainland films of this period, the viewing experience is akin to watching a parallel universe far removed from the realities of the time. With Visitors on the Icy Mountain, fortunately, it is an enjoyable experience thanks to the movie's rich texture and an unusual exoticism emanating from the non-Han roots of its music, dance, and key cast members.
The story takes place in 1951, a time when anti-Communists loyal to Chiang Kai-shek were still considered a major threat to Beijing's rule.
Amir (Abudoulimiti, a Tajik making his screen debut) is a young PLA recruit of Tajik origin who finds himself distracted from his sentry duties by the presence of childhood sweetheart Gulandanmu (Gu Yuying), a lass he has not seen since she was sold into slavery eight years earlier.
A newlywed, she is eager to forsake her husband for Amir. But the arrival of another Gulandanmu (Ayixianmu Kelimu, a female Uygur teenager) exposes life-and-death intrigues that threaten the local garrison's very survival.
The narrative is not strong on nuance or subtlety but provides an entertaining framework for delivering its political talking points.
As played by Liang Yin, the film's most famous actor, Battalion Commander Yang is the embodiment of sagacity, folksiness, and respect for tribal customs.
The movie is pictorially more interesting than many contemporary Changchun features due to the stunning vistas caught by Zhang Hui's Soviet-style black-and-white camera work. And endowing Visitors on the Icy Mountain with its greatest distinction is the haunting score by Lei Zhenbang.