Qingyu Bao Jian (1929) 情欲宝鉴 (Passion’s Precious Mirror)
Da Zhonghua Baihe. B&W. Silent. Direction: Li Pingqian. Screenplay: Zhu Shouju. Cinematography: Zhou Shimu. Principal Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Zheng Jiduo [i.e. Chung Ki-tak], Lin Meiru, Zhang Fufeng, Wu Yixiao.
A young woman and an artist fall in love, but he is already married. Burning with frustrated desire, the two lovers have a drug and alcohol-fueled tryst, at which he deterrmines to commit suicide. But just as he raises the poisoned cup, she grabs it and kills herself.
In the West, a popular subgenre of detective literature and motion pictures has been the investigation and solution of crimes by a husband and wife team of investigators, who may be a combination of professional and amateur, or a pair of talented amateurs. In the U.S. there have been such notable combinations as Nick and Nora Charles, and Pam and Jerry North; British fiction has given us Jane and Dagobert Brown, Henry and Emmy Tibbett, and of course Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Other countries probably have their own such pairings. The earliest example of this sub-genre I have found in Chinese film is this 1929 production from the (real-life) husband and wife team of Zhang Huimin and Wu Suxin, whose Huaju studio specialized in martial arts action/adventures. But instead of placing their stories in some vaguely defined period of ancient China, the usual setting for the swordsman fantasies that dominated Chinese screens at the time, Huaju placed its stories in modern, contemporary settings. As a result, while their films were usually categorized as "martial arts," in retrospect they would more accurately be classified as what we today would refer to as "action/adventure" films. A point of interest about this film is the role of the wife: instead of just advising her detective husband, she takes on most of the personal risk.
The popularity and success of this production raised the possibility of a series of movies featuring this crime-busting couple, but unfortunately a depressed economy combined with political turmoil drove the Huaju studio out of business and terminated what could have become a classic series.
[left, while no individual stills from the film have survived, this collage of stills composed an advertisement for the movie. Wu Suxin can be seen in man's clothing, hands in pockets, in the center. Most interesting is the lower right corner picture, in which she appears to be dancing on a table while partying with other gang members. Click on image to enlarge.]
Zhentan zhi Qi (1929)侦探之妻(The Detective’s Wife)
Huaju. B&W. Silent. 9 reels. Premiered May 27, 1929 at the Palace. Direction: Zhang Huimin. Cinematography: Tang Jianting. Cast: Wu Suxin (Madame Wu), Zhang Huimin (Ji Keren), Zhou Juanhong ("The Fly").
A certain city has been terrorized for some time by a criminal organization, and while the police have had some success in reacting when a crime is committed, they have less progress in accomplishing their main objective: apprehension of the brains of the gang, a shadowy figure known only as "The Fly." The problem is complicated by the presence of mob informants within the police. The city leaders decide to go outside for help, and bring in detective Ji Keren, the top detective in another city. Ji Keren knows there is no one in the police he can trust fully, and the gang may know his every move. But unknown to the gang the detective has a covert assistant, his wife Madame Wu, who often helps him in his investigations, sometimes by going underground. While Ji Keren proceeds with what appears to be normal police procedures, Madame Wu disguises herself as a man, and succeeds in joining the gang.
After gaining their trust, she learns from other gang members the real identity of "The Fly" and where he can be found. She also learns who are the informants within the police. Armed with this information, Ji Keren has the spies arrested before they can tip off the others, then he leads a police raid that rounds up the gang and most importantly, "The Fly." The criminal mastermind is tried and sentenced to a five-year prison term, but on being taken away he vows to have revenge on the couple, aiming his strongest threats at the woman who outsmarted him and deceived his top lieutenants. The detective couple don't take the threats seriously and return to their home city to resume normal life. But one day Madame Wu receives an anonymous letter telling her that another gang will soon begin operations in their home city, and that she can stop it in the same way. The letter even tells her how to do it. But her husband advises her to use caution, so she doesn't follow up on the tip. Actually, the letter has been written by "The Fly," who in addition to seeking revenge, is also planning to rebuild his criminal organization and operate it from prison.
One day while the couple are out for a walk, they happen upon a group of thugs molesting a girl selling flowers, and he intervenes to drive them off. But the flower girl is really working for "The Fly," and the whole incident was a setup. The next day, sent by her boss, she visits the couple to express her gratitude for their help. During the visit she casually mentions her suspicion that there may be criminal activity going on at a certain temple near her flower stall. The couple go there to investigate, but too late realize they have fallen into a trap. An underground stream runs beneath the temple, and Keren jumps in. When he doesn't come up, the gang celebrates, thinking he has drowned. But Keren has actually swum away underwater, and returns with police who subdue the gang and rescue the detective's wife.
[Heroes gather for defense of a village. Jin Yan is first from left, Gao Qianping second, and Liu Jiqun at far right]
At the request of a friend, a village chieftain, swordsman Fei Long travels through a bandit-infested region to a remote mountain village in order to bring back the friend's cousin Xiaoxia, a girl just orphaned. On their way back, Xiaoxia admires a beautiful wild rose growing on a cliffside, and Fei Long climbs up to obtain it for her. They have some risky adventures on the return, and Fei Long gradually falls in love with Xiaoxia, although he stoically hides his feelings. When they arrive at their destination they learn the village is threatened by a bandit gang led by the notorious Bai Qi. Fei Long organizes the villagers for the defense of their homes, and they fend off several assaults. Finally, Bai Qi orders a last all-out attack, during which he and Fei Long wage an epic one-on-one struggle and Bai Qi is killed. Seeing their leader has fallen, the rest of the bandits flee in disarray. The villagers begin to celebrate, but stop when they see the heroic Fei Long has also been mortally wounded. Xiaoxia runs to his side and places her treasured rose in his hands. Understanding that she realizes his feelings for her, Fei Long smiles, then dies.
[left, a young teacher (Hu Die) is about to get a new and unsolicited suitor]
Having lost his father early, filial son Liu Mengping and his mother rely on each other to survive. Mengping studies hard, and tests successfuly into a good public school, where he soon becomes one of its top students. One day, when Mengping catches a cold, he sees the school nurse but lacks the money to buy any medication. Not wanting to miss any class, he goes to school anyway. In art class, teacher Han Guoying notices he is unwell, and when the boy's good friend Chen Jian explains that Mengping has no money for medicine, she allows him to lie down and rest a while in the teacher's lounge. Han Guoying is a kindly young female teacher, and she likes Mengping for his polite manners and diligence. She has his friend Chen Jian accompany the sick boy to the lounge, and gives the boy some money, telling him that while improving the mind is good, the body needs some attention too. Mengping is embarrassed to accept her offer, but the teacher presses him, saying that if it still bothers him later, he can always repay her. Mengping accepts, and leaves with a very good impression of his teacher.
[right, the teacher with the boy she loves (Gong Jianong)]
Mengping's health takes a turn for the better, but now he has another concern. His friend Chen Jian comes to visit him, bringing the teacher with him. When she offers Mengping some money to see a doctor, he begins to imagine that she not only pities him, she is in love with him. In his confused state, Mengping draws a picture of Han Guoying, which he sends to her along with a passionate letter. After reading it, Han Guoying goes to see him again, but this time she explains that she is engaged to Song Youzhi, a young man she loves, and gave the money to Mengping purely out of benevolence, with no other motive whatever, and to not take care of his own health would be unfilial to his mother. By the following year, with the teacher's sponsorship and his mother's care, Mengping's health has improved and he completes his school work.
[right, a naive student mistakes his teacher's kindness and generosity for love. Hu Die and Zheng Xiaoqiu.]
[a young husband tells his wife of his business success, but she feels it is becoming his obsession. Hu Die, left, and Gao Zhanfei]
After Zhang Guangzu, scion of a wealthy family, marries Xie Huiying, he continues his preoccupation with pursuit of fame and fortune, which gradually alters his young wife's feelings for him. After several years, they divorce, and she moves in with a young man named Chen Zhuxin. But Chen's poor financial situation forces him to work such long hours to support his family that his health fails, and in a few years, he dies. Alone and helpless, the grieving Xie Huiying tries to raise their young daughter alone, but her daily worsening depression at last makes her give up. She entrusts her daughter to Zhang Guangzu, and dies.
[her health broken by grief and overwork, a young mother lays dying]
A wealthy man named Zou Chu rules his family very strictly, while he himself is a secret libertine, sneaking out to visit prostitutes. He bribes a doctor to diagnose him as having a nervous condition which requires complete rest and quiet, giving him an excuse to set up a second home, a love nest where he can more conveniently meet with women. Meanwhile, Zou Chu is so tight-fisted with money that his two sons in frustration collude with a crooked accountant to swindle a large sum of money, which they proceed to squander in drinking and gambling. Zou Chu also has a daughter named Biru, a student who is dating a young male student named Hu Mou. By chance, Biru meets an old woman who is very nice to her, and Biru invites her new acquaintance back to her home where they have a pleasant visit. Unaware that the older woman is really a procuress seeking new young women to lure into prostitution, Biru accepts the woman's invitation to meet what the woman says is her gentleman friend, but is actually Zou Chu. The old woman has told Zou Chu that she has found a beautiful young woman he will like, with the plan being for Zou Chu to rape the young woman, after which he and the procuress will force her into prostitution. Neither is aware that their intended victim is his daughter. The resulting scene when they meet is so embarassing that Biru rushes out crying and intending to kill herself. Fortunately, Hu Mou, suspicious of Biru's older friend, has followed the pair and is there to rescue the girl. The father, outraged at the procuress, chases her into the street and is almost struck by a car driven by his two sons, who are driving drunk. Discredited both at home and publicly, Zou Chu leaves the country and becomes a vagabond. Biru and Hu Mou declare their love for each other.
As mentioned in an earlier review, the earliest Chinese film we have available to view today is the Mingxing studio's 1922 comedy short《A Laborer's Love》. One of the earliest feature-length movies still extant is this one, from seven years later. The first several minutes of the only existing print is very dark, making it almost impossible to view what is happening in the first few scenes, but then it brightens up. One of the eight reels is apparently missing from the available print: the credits list two actors portraying the "Daddy" of the original title as a younger man and his late first wife, probably in a flashback scene; but this scene is not on the surviving print.
Update: The full film (what remains) is freely available online at a Chinese streaming site, although preceded by a minute or so of commercials. The print quality improves somewhat about 9 minutes into the film.
Erzi Yingxiong (1929) 儿子英雄(Heroic Son) Original title: Pa Laopo (1929) 怕老婆 (Poor Daddy) [literally: Timid Daddy] alternate English title: My Son was a Hero
Changcheng (Great Wall). B&W. Silent. Extant in part， 71 min. Director: Yang Xiaozhong (cr. as Dumas Young). Screenplay: Chen Zhiqing (cr. as C. C. Chen). Cinematography: Li Wenguang (cr. as T. K. Lee). Art Director: Wan Guchan (cr. as James Wan). Sets: Wan Dihuan (cr. as Irving Wan), Zhu Rongsheng (cr. as G. S. Gee). Intertitles: Zhang Huiyuan (cr. as H.Y. Chang). English intertitles: Sun Yu (cr. as C. Y. Sun).
Cast: Zhang Zhede (Ah Gen), Liu Jiqun (Fu Yuan), Xu Jingjun (Fu Yuan's wife), Gao Weilian (Zhang Ying), Hong Jingling (Li Cheng), He Zhigang (Fu as a young man), He Meiying (Fu's young wife), Wang Zhengqing (patrol leader).
A gentle and hard-working young man's wife dies young, leaving him with a son. He remarries, but his new wife bullies him, while others take advantage of his sweet and trusting nature to cheat him. The wife takes a local hoodlum as her lover, and when a violent burglary is committed in the area, the two plot to frame her husband for the crime, collect the reward money, and run away. The son heroically finds the real criminal's mountain hideout and guides a group of local fishermen in capturing him. When the criminal names the wife's lover as his accomplice, her lover flees, leaving the wife behind. Abandoned by her false lover and exposed as an adulteress, she leaves in shame.
Huangpu. B&W. Silent. Direction: Li Shaohua, Jin Qian. Cast: Xu Xuzhen, Luo Kepeng, Li Shaohua, Yang Tiangu.
A pirate king named Yang Silong rules his headquarters like a despot. When a tourist named Wu Yonglu travels through the area with his daughter, Yang's henchman Li Dahai ambushes the pair, killing the father and abducting the girl. Ten years later, the murdered man's son Yingxia arrives seeking revenge, but he is captured by the pirate king. When he tells Wang why he has come, the pirate king personally kills Li Dahai, then reunites the brother and sister.
In a prosperous southeast China village, an old man lives with his five sons: a martial artist, a lawyer, an artist, a rickshaw puller and a cook. One day, the father informs them he has received a letter from their cousin Fengyan, due to arrive at their hometown that same day and he wants them to meet her at the bus station. The sons are very excited to learn their cousin is a beautiful girl, and each takes special care in grooming and dressing himself for the meeting. They have a series of comic misadventures on the way to meeting her and during her visit, as the brothers compete with each other to impress her.
[Five brothers compete to woo their pretty cousin. Yin Mingzhu, lower right}