[left, a poster for《Bai Furong》, showing Wu Suxin and Zhang Huimin being pulled in by Cupid]
We have written before of the action filmmaking team of Zhang Huimin and Wu Suxin (aka White Rose Woo), who at their own studio -- Huaju -- made a succession of popular martial arts fims during the late 1920s mania for that genre. This was another of their successful productions, in which Wu again played the damsel in distress while Zhang was her brave and heroic rescuer. (This was not always the case in their movies: for example, in 1929's《The Detective's Wife》, she was the bolder one, going undercover to expose the actions of a criminal gang.) But while this movie was pure escapist entertainment, not one of China's early classics with a heavy message exposing a social evil and advocating reform, it still stands out as an excellent example of how valuable the program notes surviving in Chinese archives and libraries are to the film historian, often the only source of information on so many lost films. The program notes for《Bai Furong》provide many technical credits which are missing from the printed sources that in most cases tell us no more than director, writer and (sometimes) cinematographers, along with principal cast members only. As with most of the Zhang-Wu collaborations, the couple played the leads, and Wu Suxin's sister Wu Susu had an important supporting role.
Bai Furong, I, II (1927) 白芙蓉 (Bai Furong, pts. 1,2)
Huaju. B&W. Silent. 19 reels total. Premiered September 28, 1927 at the Palace Theater in Shanghai. Executive Producer: Zhang Lapu. Direction: Chen Tian. Written by Zhang Huimin, adapted for the screen by Chen Tian. Cinematography: Tang Jiantang. Makeup: Wu Suxin. Sets: Huang Linyan. Art: He Ken. Title calligraphy: Zhang Yunpeng. Chinese program notes: Huang Zhigang. English program notes: Ding Xiqing. Editing: Lu Huazhang. Cast: Han Fengshan (Lu Wenzhen), Kang Peizhen (his wife, née Zhao), Cai Zemin (Lu Yixiang), Wu Susu (his wife, née Jin), Zhang Huimin (Lu Yihong), Wu Suxin (Bai Furong), He Qiupu (Mother Bai), Yuan Shengze (Hu Shan), Zhang Yunpeng (Pang Hu), Lu Huazhang (Pang Feng), Xia Suiqing (Zhidan), Zhang Lingjun (Qiuxiang), Tang Qing (A Jiu), Gao Baolun (A San).
In the city of Changan, two good friends, well-to-do young men about town Hu Shan and Lu Yihong, nightly make the rounds of the city's clubs, dance halls and taverns. Yihong is the youngest of three brothers, and although his two elder siblings are happily and stably married, and his widowed father criticizes his ways, the young man persists in his carefree and irresponsible lifestyle. When the two playboys hear that a wineshop run by a widow named Bai always does better business than its competitors, they go there to discover the reason for its popularity. They soon find out: the owner's daughter Furong is so attractive that customers are drawn there, whether they drink or not. The young men become habitues of the wineshop and both vow to win her. Hu Shan is the more wealthy of the pair, and has considerable local influence, but to his surprise the young lady is unimpressed; instead, she is attracted by the warmth and sincerity of Lu Yihong. Lu decides he has found his soulmate, and will abandon his bachelorhood and settle down with her. But Hu Shan is used to always having his way, and this unexpected setback so angers him that he vows the two former friends are now bitter enemies, and he will not accept defeat.
One day, Hu Shan sees Bai Furong and Lu Yihong boating on a lake and, overcome with jealousy, he dives into the water and attempts to overthrow their boat. He and Yihong fight in the water, and at last Yihong drives him off. But it goes on: whenever Hu Shan sees the couple together, he loses control and does something crazy. He even deceives Bai Furong into being alone with him, then abducts her and carries her off in a large sack. Fortunately Lu Yihong learns of this, and by using a martial arts technique known as "phoenix takes dragon," he frees her and puts the abductor in his own bag.
Although Yihong is victorious, he is also slightly injured. Although his father approves of his son's decision to settle down with a nice girl, he fears Yihong is losing control of his emotions, which could lead to serious trouble in the future. So he asks a wise Buddhist monk to counsel the young man, while the father personally escorts Furong back to her family home. Furong's mother had been nearly insane with worry during her daughter's disappearance, so she is overjoyed at her safe return and profuse in expressing her gratitude to Father Lu. The two widowed elders talk, and find they have a mutual attraction. They commit to an engagement, after which Furong and her mother move into a modest cottage in the Lu family's plum garden.
While recovering from his injury, Lu Yihong had moved to the Buddhist temple to study and meditate. When he hears from a temple servant that the elder couple are engaged, and Furong has moved to his father's home, he is overjoyed, and immediately writes to Furong, and makes a date to meet her that night in the plum garden. Unfortunately, the letter falls into Hu Shan's hands, and he arranges for a couple of local thugs, brothers named Pang Hu and Pang Long, to tie a rope across the road Lu Yihong will take to the garden, causing the horse to fall and throw Yihong to the ground. Hu disguises himelf as an old person and proceeds on the road to the plum garden. When Furong arrives and does not see Yihong, she goes looking for him. She sees what seems to be an old man on the road, but when he approaches her, she recognizes him as Hu Shan, and runs away up a mountainside. Trying to escape, she climbs to a dangerous precipice, but when her pursuer catches up, and demands she give in to his desire for her, Furong leaps from the cliff, prefering death to dishonor. Meanwhile, Yihong has been following Hu Shan, and after the two rivals struggle once more, Hu Shan falls to his death. Believing he has reached the precipice too late to save his beloved, Yihong stands looking out over the sea, filled with hatred and grief. But Furong has survived her jump into the sea, and was saved by a fisherman. As Yihong stands at the edge of the cliff in despair and considers jumping to his own death, he hears a familiar voice, and turns to see Furong running to him. The couple joyfully embrace, then return to his father's home, where two happy couples look forward to a double wedding.
[left: No still photos from the film have survived, although the illustration in the above poster appears to have been taken from a still. There is a group photo showing many of the cast and crew gathered after filming was completed. Wu Suxin and Zhang Huimin are in the foreground on one side of the camera, with cinematographer Tang Jiantang on the other. The rest are unidentified, although the woman second from left is probably Suxin's sister Susu]