Released only weeks after the "Mukden Incident," a provocation staged by the Japanese to provide an excuse for invading and occupying the three Chinese Northeastern provinces known collectively as Manchuria, this was one of the earliest "resistance films" produced by Shanghai studios. It is interesting that while "consummate villain" Wang Xianzhai is credited by Chinese historians with having played positive characters in only two of his many films (and not this one), the surviving written sources related to this lost film do not portray his character as a bad guy: a patriot, he left his wife to serve his country, and while he harrassed her and her new husband upon his return, in the end he sacrificed his own life to save theirs. There may have been some additional villainy which is not recorded, but from what we have he seems like a tragic figure more heroic than otherwise.
[Although no stills from the movie are known to exist, a few crew members gathered for a photo after the film's completion. Standing at rear are director Zhang Shichuan, left, and cinematographer Dong Keyi. Seated in front are Wang Xianzhai, left, and Xuan Jinglin]
Shengsi Fuqi (1931) 生死夫妻 (A Couple in Life and Death)
Mingxing (Star). B&W. Silent. 10 reels. Premiered October 27, 1931 at the Palace. Direction: Zhang Shichuan. Cinematography: Dong Keyi. Sets: Dong Tianya. Program notes: Zheng Zongbian. Cast: Xuan Jinglin (Zhou Meifen), Wang Xianzhai (Chen Jiansheng), Gong Jianong (Zhao Guoxian), Xiao Ying (Zhou Muxi), Zhao Jingxia (wet nurse), Wang Jiting (Liu Jing), Tan Zhiyuan (Battalion Commander Ma), Wang Weixin (bandit chieftain), Gao Lihen (Father Zhao), Tang Jie (He Degong), Gu Youmin (doctor).
Moved by patriotism after the Mukden Incident, writer Chen Jiansheng puts down his pen, bids goodbye to his wife Meifen, and joins the army. After a time, his family is notified that he has died in battle, whereupon her father (not wanting to be burdened with supporting a widowed daughter) forces Meifen into an arranged marriage with a young man named Zhao Guoxian. With no alternate future, she has no choice but to agree. But the reality is that Chen Jiansheng was not killed in action, but was taken hostage by some bandits. When they realize their captive is unlikely to bring a ransom, they let him go. Upon Jiansheng's release, he returns home, but when he learns of his wife's remarriage, he is overcome with anger and a desire for revenge for what he sees as betrayal. Changing his name to Wang Cheng, he undertakes a campaign of harrassment against the Zhao couple, making their life a living hell. They know someone named Wang is making trouble for them, but they don't know who he is or what his reason. But one day Meifen and Guoxian are in desperate trouble, and their mysterious persecutor intercedes to save them, although he is killed in the effort. When she learns that Wang Cheng was really her first husband, and she realizes his last act of sacrifice was an expression of his love for her, Meifen breaks down, overcome with emotion and grief for the true love she lost.