If you’re a Cdrama fan, then you’re definitely familiar with the iconic orchestra battle scene called “The Battle of East and West” from “Our Shining Days.” In the climactic scene, the Chinese Orchestra faces off against the Classical Orchestra in a musical turf war to determine the fate of both orchestras in the movie’s fictional music school.
As a former member of the Chinese Orchestra in Grace Christian College and avid fan of classical music, I’ll dissect the entire scene – so buckle up and enjoy the ride!
The scene starts with a lone guzheng player, who kicks off the competition with a rousing performance of “Guangling San” demonstrating the fierceness and dexterity of her instrument. At first, there is silence, with the Western Orchestra hesitating to send a challenger.
The academic inspector is surprised by this and questions the student, but she is undeterred. Even the principal and a school inspector cannot get between the fierce rivalry of these two warring factions.
Eventually, two students emerge from the rival practice room carrying a Western Harp. In sharp contrast to the previous piece, the rival harpist plays a mellifluous rendition of “First Arabesque” – rich in glissandos, gliding up and down the scales like a graceful swan. After her performance, she stills her harp strings, glaring at the other player.
As the adults bicker among themselves in confusion, the doors fly open, with the string sections of both parties emerging from their practice rooms. The Western Orchestra arrives first – violins, violas, and cellos in tow. As they place down their chairs, they exchange smug smirks and leers at the rival party. The leader of the strings section, Zheng Youen, looks confident they are going to win.
Meanwhile on the Chinese side, we have the two-stringed er hu, the circular moon guitar or yue qin, and the bulb-shaped pi pa. With anxious faces, they prepare for the Western Orchestra’s move.
And a spectacular move it is! Right off the bat, they hit hard and fast with the intimidating “Flight of the Bumblebee,” a piece that appears in almost every movie about classical music. If you have ever taken piano or violin lessons, you were probably challenged to play this piece by your fellow music students to gauge your speed.
The Chinese Orchestra adds their own unique sound, with the plucked string notes from the guitars and the resonant timbre of the er hu. Right behind the strings section, the wind instruments have congregated, keeping up with the relentless onslaught of chromatic sixteenth notes. Close-up shots show the Chinese wooden dizi versus the metal flutes of the Western Orchestra.
With more students gathering in the hallway, the blare of trumpets and the Chinese sheng are added to the battle’s increasing intensity. Panning shots reveal the school’s “Prince of Piano” Wang Wen joining the fray, calmly striking the keys as main character Xu Lu hammers frantically at her Yangqin.
As the piece heads to its climax, there is an abrupt dark horse who literally changes the tune of the musical showdown – a student in a PE uniform comes out playing the suona, a type of Chinese trumpet. As he blares out “The Song of the Phoenix,” its rapid note changes and melismatic play style throws some unexpected chaos into the mix.
The Phoenix puts an abrupt end to the “Flight of the Bumblebee,” confounding the members of the Western Orchestra. They are unable to adjust to the unique tempo of this traditional piece. They look at each other confused, as the Chinese Orchestra’s music dominates the hallway. Tweeting like a bird, the suona gets some extra solo sections in, rendering the rival players to exchange frustrated looks. How could they counter this?
Interlude finished, the Chinese Orchestra swiftly returns to “Bumblee,” showing perfect coordination of the suona soloist and the rest of the group. Missing their re-entry into the piece, the Western Orchestra fumbles in awe. Delivering the final blow, the Chinese Orchestra ends with a spectacular flourish of all the instruments in unison.
Satisfied, the winners leave with smiles on their faces while the Western Orchestra’s pride is wounded. The spectators clap as all the students return to their rehearsal rooms. Thoroughly impressed by both orchestras, the school inspector says “Very good!”
As the scene comes to an end, the inspector follows up by saying “This is a hall for the arts. Why make it look like a prison?” The strict principal hastily agrees, and the music hall is eventually opened, removing the barriers between the two orchestras.
The scene’s main meaning is that different styles of music can come together beautifully despite the differences in sound, instruments, and values.
At the start of the movie, the rivalry between the two orchestras was already obvious. The battle was the boiling point, to put an end to the fighting and determine: which Orchestra is better?
The Chinese Orchestra’s reputation is tacky and old-fashioned, receiving less support from the school. Their practice rooms are dusty, and they wear their Physical Education uniforms to rehearsals. Nonetheless, they are very dedicated to their art.
Meanwhile, the Western Orchestra is known to be uptight, snobbish, and pretentious; seeing themselves as inherently above the Chinese Orchestra. They don’t even like associating with those perceived to be beneath them.
But after being beaten, they grow to respect their rivals and start putting aside their differences. In fact, the metal bars between the Orchestras symbolize this barrier between them that prevents them from getting along. At the end of the movie, it is fittingly removed, and students from both sides are shown practicing music together.
While the scene does a wonderful job of comparing and contrasting the two styles of music, it also shows the beauty of both combining together.
Thanks for reading! Now if you’re wondering if the Chinese and Western Orchestra in a Chinoy High School have a rivalry like this, you can read our article about the experiences of a Chinese Orchestra member! And if you’re curious whether the actors in the scene can really play their instruments, watch this video by TwoSet Violin!