A Representative MDB Film: "The Soul of Yu Li"
As stated in the last post, one of the most popular early MDB films was 1924's "The Soul of Yu Li" (Yu Li Hun 玉梨魂), adapted from a very popular novel of the same name, by Xu Zhenya 徐枕亚 (1889-1937). With adaptation for the screen by Zheng Zhengqiu and direction by Zhang Shichuan, it became another big hit for the Mingxing studio after "An Orphan Saves his Grandfather," and like "Orphan" it also starred Wang Hanlun and had a woman's misfortune as its main selling point.
[right, Xu Zhenya]
Yu Li Hun (1924) 玉梨魂 (The Soul of Yu Li)
alternate English title: The Death of Yu Li
Mingxing. B&W. Silent. 10 reels. Premiered September 11, 1924 at the Embassy Theater in Shanghai. Direction: Zhang Shichuan, Xu Hu. Screenplay: Zheng Zhengqiu, adapted from the novel of the same title by Xu Zhenya (1889-1937). Cinematographer: Wang Xiangchang. Cast: Wang Hanlun (widow Li), Wang Xianzhai (He Mengxia), Yang Naimei (Cui Yunqian), Zheng Zhegu (Qin Shichi), Huang Junfu (Fang Dayuan), Ren Chaojun (Cui Penglang).
[left, as her husband lay dying, a young wife and mother faces a bleak future]
A young man, He Mengxia, arrives to teach at her son's school. Impressed by the boy's intelligence and hard work, the teacher gives the child at-home tutoring, where the widow and teacher become acquainted and fall in love. Knowing her love for him is hopeless, widow Li goes to her father-in-law and asks his permission to marry her late husband's sister Cui Yunqian to He Mengxia. The couple marry, but the marriage is loveless, and the teacher still loves widow Li, who also finds it hard to forget him. At last, he leaves teaching to join the army, then is sent far away. Depressed and lonely, the widow dies. [Wang Hanlun, above right]
In writing his screen adaptation, Zheng Zhengqiu changed the ending, In the novel, the sister-in-law Yunqian also dies from a broken heart, but in the movie version she finds a letter in which the widow had recorded her thoughts and feelings. So Yunqian takes the widow's son and goes on a long, arduous journey to find Mengxia. The two reunite, vowing to raise the widow's little boy as their own.
[left: not the marriage arrangement he wanted; Wang Xianzhai is at the right]
After its release, "Yuli" was criticized for praising the virtues of traditional women, but some critics disagreed, noting that while it did not come right out in advocation of a widow's right to remarry, it did make a strong attack on the traditional practice of forbidding remarriage by showing the suffering it caused.
The Representative MDB Writer: Bao Tianxiao
The representative figure of the MDB school, Bao Tianxiao包天笑 (1876-1973), entered the film world in 1924 as a writer for the Mingxing studio, after a successful career as an author of novels and short stories. But his greatest achievements were as a translator, having published Chinese translations of classic foreign works which were later made into major motion pictures in China.
During his film period, Bao wrote 10 scripts in all, most of them adaptations of his own original works. His representative work for motion pictures is considered to be "Orchid in an Empty Valley" (Kong Gu Lan 空谷兰), which he had adapted from Zheng Zhengqiu's stage play of the same title, and based on the Japanese novel "No no Hana" (Wildflower) by Kuroiwa Ruikō (1862-1920). The lengthy film, issued in two parts, related the internal disputes and machinations of a clan, and gave Mingxing its second box office bonanza, following up on "Orphan." [right, Bao Tianxiao]
Contemporaneous Events of 1924
February 1: Li Minwei, China's documentary specialist, completed filming Sun Yat-sen's first Nationalist government Congress in Guangzhou (Canton).
Spring: D.W. Griffith's "Way Down East" was released in China with the China title "False Marriage" (Lai Hun 赖婚). It created so huge a sensation it led to the Chinese re-release of many of his earlier romance films and had a major influence on Chinese romantic films.
December 31: in Japan, the first East Asian nation to make movies, authorities announced the country's studios produced 875 films of various lengths during the year. Of these, 372 were products of the Shochiku Motion Picture Co. This was a remarkable achievement in a country devastated just a year before by an earthquake of unprecedented magnitude.
Meanwhile, in Italy it was announced that country's entire output for the year was no more than 20 films, down from 220 in 1920 and the all-time high of 921 in 1912. Most observers declared the Italian film industry was dying.
December 31: The top U.S. films for the year were "The Sea Hawk," "Secrets," "The Thief of Bagdad" and "Girl Shy."