Xiao Changzhu (1925) 小厂主 (The Young Factory Owner)
Da Zhonghua Baihe. Silent. 9 reels. Premiered October 16, 1925 at the Palace Theater in Shanghai. Direction: Lu Jie. Screenplay: Wang Yuanlong, adapted from the novel of the same title by Zhou Shoujuan 周瘦鹃 (1895-1968). Cinematography: Xu Zhiyan, Zhou Shimu. Cast: Li Minghui (Li Aifang), Wang Yuanlong (Wang Yiping), Zhang Qingsheng (Li Rong), He Lizhu (Li Ruhui), Tang Jie (Li Darong), Xiao Ying (both Li Daguangs), Xing Banmei (Daguang's wife), Tong Dafu (Tong Lihua), Weng Manqian (Qiuxiang, a female employee), Wang Lanying (Xialan, a female employee). Also: Yang Jingwo.
In an earlier article, we discussed a movie which criticized the Chinese practice of patrilineage, in which an estate could only be passed to a male heir, even if he was no more than a distant relative. This is another, earlier film which also attacked that practice. Although it was made several years prior to the emergence of the left-wing film movement which was so prominent in 1930s Chinese cinema, its content foreshadowed it, notably in its inclusion of a labor union activist as the hero.
Shipyard owner Li Rong has a fierce temper, and when it flares up at his only son Li Daguang, the proud younger man leaves home and with his wife travels to remote New Willow Village, where he earns an independent living. Some years later, Li Rong has grown old and lonely, and regrets his earlier action. His trusted young secretary Wang Yiping volunteers to find the son. Li Rong has a distant nephew, Li Darong, the shipyard's chief engineer, who has speculated heavily and run up substantial debts. As soon as the secretary leaves, the nephew moves in to ingratiate himself with the old man, hoping to supplant Li Daguang as Li Rong's eventual heir. When he asks Li Rong for 120,000 yuan to settle his debts, and is refused, Darong leaves in anger while vowing the shipyard will eventually be his. Meanwhile, there is another interested party observing this: an employee, also named Li Daguang, who for several years has been an activist attempting to organize the shipyard's workers into a union, but so far without the management cooperation needed for success. He bides his time. When news of nephew Li Darong's scheming reaches Wang Yiping, he frantically steps up his search and finally locates Li Daguang's wife in New Willow Village. She tells him her husband left a decade earlier to find other work, and while he regularly sends her money, she is vague as to where he is located. The only one remaining is their daughter Aifang, a sweet and innocent country girl. Unwilling to waste time on reporting this to his employer, Liping has her hair cut short and dresses her as a boy, then takes "him" to the city to meet "his" grandfather. Li Rong is overjoyed at the newcomer's arrival, and organizes a huge banquet to celebrate, inviting all the shipyard's employees to welcome their future employer. But when Li Darong sees the "heir" he is suspicious, and sends a gang of thugs to abduct Aifang, then bring her to the banquet, where he exposes the deception. But Aifang looks to the back of the hall and yells out "Father!" to a man at the rear. Li Daguang the union activist comes forward and embraces her, and Li Rong recognizes this man as his long-lost son. The assembly rejoices as they welcome the plant's new ownership, and look forward to a bright unionized future.