In 2010 one of the projects I took part in was a TV play called “Yan’an Aiqing” (Love in Yan’an). The play was about a lad who was in love with a girl in Mao Tse Tung’s headquarters in Yan’an. I played a priest who helped him and his friend to cross the Yellow River on his way to find true love.
We filmed this segment in Shanxi Province in a place called Qikou, an old trading town on the banks of the Yellow River. I was told that during its heyday, no women were allowed to work in the town. The men who had wives were allowed to go home for a visit once every three years.
While they were dressing me for this scene, with the robe and the crucifix and all the trappings, the director asked me if I was a Christian. I said no. Oh, he said, but do you know the Bible? I said no. He got quite worried, he said he wanted me to preach a sermon. So I remembered the parable of let he who is without sin cast the first stone and improvised a sermon on that.
We were staying in an old terraced building that had been turned into a hotel. The cave-style rooms were organised on different layers connected by narrow stone staircases. There was a pile of coal in the courtyard below and smoke drifted up from the coal fire on which vast vats of vegetable and tofu were cooked for the film crew to eat. The soldiers were played by a group of young men and women who had just graduated from a drama school in Xi’an.
We had our breakfast in a windowless room like a tunnel, the walls of which were covered with portraits of Chairman Mao and framed quotations from his works. I remember going for breakfast one morning and all the young actors were there dressed in their Red Army uniforms, I thought I’d fallen into a time warp.
The most unforgettable day was the day we filmed by the Yellow River. The carpenters had built a rickety jetty reaching out into the flood and the waters were rising, everyone was in a hurry to get finished before the jetty washed away. The Yellow River really is yellow, because of the yellow loess suspended in it.