As mentioned in our earlier article about Charlie Chaplin's visit to Shanghai, the residents of that city, Chinese and expatriate foreigners alike, were mad about dancing. So it is no wonder that dance halls or ballrooms were popular settings for movies. We have already discussed two such films from 1931,《Farewell to Yuren》, a tragedy, and《Pleasures of the Dance Hall》, a dramatic production with sound and musical numbers. Our third 1931 film having a dance venue as its setting is more difficult to classify: the surviving plot outlines of《Such a Paradise》would indicate a drama that turns violent at the end; but the surviving still photos hint that the movie might have had some comedy as well. This uncertainty is the reason I have not given it a genre classification. The violence was not serious, with one character slightly wounded, but no permanent damage done. Also, while there is not a happy ending reconcilation at the end, the film ends on an optimistic note, indicating the couple might get back together. Like《Farewell to Yuren》, this was also from the Mingxing studio, with what was becoming director Zhang Shichuan's stock company, but this time featuring his number one female lead Hu Die paired with leading man Gong Jianong, one of several times the two would play opposite each other in the 1930s. The film was very long: 29 reels would have made it close to a total five hour running time.
Ruci Tiantang I, II (1931) 如此天堂 (Such a Paradise)
Mingxing. B&W. Silent (with dialogue dubbed on wax discs). 29 reels in 2 parts. Part 1 premiered September 10, 1931 at the New Light Theater in Shanghai. Direction: Zhang Shichuan. Screenplay: Zhuang Zhengping. Cinematography: Dong Keyi. Asst. Director: Cheng Bugao. Sound: Duan Guhuai. Sets: Dong Tianya. Art: Zhang Yuguang. Cast: Hu Die (Shen Yongfang), Gong Jianong (Qiu Zhensheng), Wang Xianzhai (Li Shouyi, a lawyer), Xia Peizhen (Xiu Ying, a dance hostess), Wang Jiting (Tang Tianxi), Gao Qianping (a dance hostess), Yan Yuexian (Li’s wife), Zhao Jingxia (the lawyer’s secretary), Wang Weixin (dance hall manager), Tang Jie (Weng Ziqing).
Newspaper employee Qiu Zhensheng and his wife Shen Yongfang have a happy marriage, but it comes to an end one day when he goes with some co-workers to a dance hall after work, where he falls for dance hostess Xiu Ying and, believing this is true love, he approaches his wife about a divorce. She is hurt, but the couple calmly discuss the issue, and at last agree to end their marriage. Another regular at the dance hall is shady lawyer Li Shouyi, and when he learns of the married couple's breakup, he offers to handle their divorce procedures for only a small fee. He also persuades the wife to accept a minimal financial settlement, although she is being left without an income. The inexperienced and somewhat confused young woman signs the divorce papers the lawyer draws up.
[right, Gong Jianong (left) and Wang Xianzhai (center) persuade Hu Die to accept a quick and easy divorce settlement]
After that, Zhensheng and Xiuying move in together, living as if husband and wife. But Li Shouyi has a deeper agenda: he plans to benefit his patron, dance hall owner Weng Ziqing, by finding a beautiful woman who can become the star of Weng's facility. Convincing Yongfang he has her best interests at heart, he induces the recent divorcée to master dancing. After practicing day and night, Yongfang is hired at the dance hall, where her gorgeous looks, clothes, and dancing skills soon make her the star of the ballroom, and her life daily becomes more luxurious.
[right, his new love locks him out of the apartment. Gong Jianong (left) and Xia Peizhen]
Zhensheng comes to his senses and goes to the dance hall to talk to Yongfang about a reconciliation. But he finds his ex-wife has become addicted to her new lifestyle, and she flatly refuses his proposal. When they begin to argue, Li Shouyi threatens to call the police to arrest Zhensheng, who hits the lawyer. When he does, dance hall owner Weng Ziqing summons his security force, who break up the fight and demand Zhensheng make apologies to Shouyi. Zhensheng refuses, and just as the men start to fight again, a shot rings out, and Li Shouyi falls to the floor, wounded. Everyone turns to look for the shooter, and see Yongfang holding a pistol, a bewildered expression on her face. She throws the gun down, just as the police arrive. The police examine Li Shouyi's wound, and find he has only suffered a flesh wound. At this point, Zhensheng comes forward and confesses that he fired the shot, then tossed the gun away, which Yongfang had picked up. But Li Shouyi knows the illegal gun belonged to his patron and, fearful that could make trouble for Weng Ziqing, Li declines to press charges against Zhensheng. But the police do arrest Zhensheng and Yongfang for disturbing the peace. On the way to the police station, Yongfang says something which pleases Zhensheng greatly: "One could say we just escaped from the gates of Hell."