After 1913's brief creative burst from the American-financed Asia Film and Theater Company, moviemaking in China virtually ceased to exist for the rest of that decade, due to circumstances totally beyond Chinese control: the outbreak of war in Europe in the late summer of 1914. Because France, and to a lesser extent Germany, were the primary manufacturers and exporters of film stock, the Asia and Xinmin Companies (Asia Film's newly-established movie arm) were forced to cease movie operations. Chinese filmmakers (and those aspiring to be) had nowhere to go for the supplies they needed to continue. The parent Asia Company shut down completely, while Xinmin absorbed Asia's acting personnel and reverted to presenting stage dramas. Zheng Zhengqiu and Zhang Shichuan also joined Xinmin and under their creative leadership, the expanded theater troupe got along until the end of the war.
Chinese theater operators were more fortunate: although the main European combatant nations continued making movies during the war, exports of their product to Asia ceased. Taking advantage of the situation, American studios expanded their exports, and as American films poured into China, they gradually supplanted the former European dominance and led to a long-standing preference for American movies among Chinese audiences.
So Chinese moviegoers got along during World War I on a steady diet of Chaplin, Lloyd, Pickford, et al. And by the end of the war, American film stock had also begun coming into China, permitting the Chinese to resume shooting their own films again. The first Chinese company to take full advantage of this was the Commercial Press, which established its Motion Picture Section in 1918 with the intention of making educational and informational films. So while the Chinese produced but one film during the war, 1917's "Victims of Opium," the Commercial Press re-started the industry in 1919 with two experimental shorts:
Si Hao Du (1919) 死好赌 (The Gambler)
Commercial Press Motion Picture Section. 600m. Comedy short. Direction: Ren Pengnian. Screenplay: Chen Chunsheng. Cinematography: Liao Enshou. Cast: Bao Guirong, Zhang Shengwu, Ding Yuanyi, Hong Jingling.
Liang Nan (1919) 两难 (In a Dilemma)
Commercial Press Motion Picture Section. Social criticism. 600m. Direction: Ren Pengnian. Screenplay: Chen Chunsheng. Cinematography: Liao Enshou. Cast: Ding Yuanyi, Bao Guirong, Zhang Shengwu.
A wealthy man takes a grieving widow as his wife, buying her from her father-in-law, although the widow wants to remain true to her late husband's memory. Fortunately, the rich man's daughter admires and sympathizes with the filial widow, helps her hide in the countryside and then covertly gives her enough money to flee elsewhere and maintain her chastity.