Sunday, April 12, 2009

Priscilla Chan, Queen of Musical Soap Operas

I came across this gem of a music video on one of my nostalgic romps through Youtube. If you were a child of the eighties who also happened to be a Cantopop fan -- like me -- you would instantly recognize the song as Priscilla Chan's mega-hit Thousands of Songs (陈慧娴 千千闕歌). Or you could just read the caption.

It is an oldie but a goodie - enjoy!

I will spare you all the boring details of how big a hit this was for Priscilla, and how many awards it won. Mainly because I don't know, and I'm too lazy to google-research it. Suffice to say that I'm certain the song was a huge hit - even my friends who are children of the nineties and double-o's are familiar with it.

It was the first time I'd ever seen this music video, and it left a deep impression. What had me entranced from the get-go, more so than the song - which is great, don't get me wrong, but I'd heard it a thousand times - was the visual style. I can't let it go without making some comments about it.

Let's start with Priscilla's outfit. Not something I'd ever seen on the streets of North Jersey, yet it looks strangely familiar. Of course, my suspicions were confirmed with a quick flip through some Japanese manga comics. (By the way, many answers to life's eternal questions are found on the pages of Japanese manga.)

A frenzy of google-wiki-search settled the argument. There is no doubt she's sporting Lolita fashion. Not your average run-of-the-mill Lolita outfit, mind you. Hers carries the trademark virginal white of shiro(white)-Lolita. However, Lolita fashion alone doesn't account for all her stylistic influences. There is something else I can't quite put my finger on. For now, I'll call it "burn victim couture" - how else do you explain why just about every inch of her body is covered in fabric?

Now that we've got the discussion of her outfit out of the way - let us proceed with an an in-depth analysis of the video itself.

It is obvious that the director is a scholar of the classics. The video draws heavily from traditional Cantopop playbooks. Many of the classic elements are present: soft-lighting, blood red long stem roses, staring longingly out of one's raindrop-covered window pane, resting one's chin on one's white-cotton-gloved hand and tilting one's head, pouring two glasses of champagne at a table for one, strolling by the sea-shore at dawn, and the sine qua non of Cantopop parting-with-one's-lover-love-song videos: letter-writing.

To its credit, the video does more than just follow a well-worn formula. The director's true genius is revealed when he takes the classical elements, melds them and creates something that captures the zeitgeist of the late eighties.

A case in point: in one scene, Priscilla lines a letter with rose petals and folds it, ostensibly to be delivered to her long-distance lover. Seeing that, I can't help thinking, "How many times have we all been there and done that?" Am I right, guys? Speaking for myself, I'm still getting used to the idea of sending off an envelope that I don't have to fill with rose petals.

For those fans out there that aren't fully fluent in Chinese, let me give you the low-down on the lyrics. They are written in a first person narrative, from Priscilla's perspective. The person she's addressing is, of course, her lover.


Slowly reminiscing, looking back at all the evenings we shared
Time and again, you were the one who lit up my heart with joy
If I were to shed foolish tears, I beg sympathy and forgiveness
Tomorrow we will part, I see a long stretch of loneliness ahead
All of a sudden, I am overcome with all the things I want to say
What a pity that we will soon be at opposite ends of the world
Let us live deeply in the final moment that we have together


Even if there were thousands of songs
That may cross my path in the future
Even if there were thousands of stars
That are brighter than the moon tonight
They will never match the beauty that I see now
They will never make me happier than I am now
Because tonight we sing together.
(I wanted to write "make music together" but that might be too cheesy)


Only on your departure's eve, do I realize the beauty of sorrow
As it turns out it was you who I will never forget
I don't know when we will have another night like tonight
Let's pause in each other's gaze, let our eyes say what's in our hearts
On a certain day, when rain drops fall gently on your window
When the sound of the wind rouses you from a daydream
Would you find the time to recall this old memory

The chorus then repeats a few times, with only minor differences between each one.

Here's a video of Priscilla performing in a different get-up, although it's similarly Japanese-inspired.

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