[left, advertisement for《Two Galaxy Stars》. Click on any image to view full size.]
The Lianhua studio's first feature-length release of 1931 was this backstage romance with an unhappy ending, its two star-crossed young lovers thwarted by feudal tradition. But it was very popular with audiences, due in large part to the "inside cinema" aspect of the story, giving Chinese filmgoers a glimpse of the mechanics of making motion pictures, rapidly becoming a leading form of popular entertainment in China. Although this was a silent film, the background to its love story was the making of a sound movie, which added to its audience appeal: sound films from the West were already being exhibited in Shanghai and other cities, and China's domestic film industry was on the threshold of its own conversion to sound, a development eagerly anticipated by audiences. The story centered on a paradox, in that the relationship of the two lovers, leading workers in one of the most modern of technologies -- motion pictures -- was stymied and eventually destroyed by one of China's most timeworn traditions: the practice of arranged marriage.
A note on the running time: Chinese sources list this as being 12 reels in length, which would make the running time between 110-120 minutes. However, the dvd copy I viewed clocked in at 87 minutes. In spite of this, there seemed to be no break in story continuity that I could see. Also, a note on the English title: the film title relates to the name of the film studio which employed the two stars, the Yinhan 银汉 Film Company. Many Western sources discussing this film translate "Yinhan" as "Milky Way," which of course is our galaxy. But nowhere in the print I viewed does an English name for the studio appear, and it seems to me that a film studio would more likely be named "Galaxy" or "Galactic" Pictures than it would be "Milky Way" Pictures. Therefore I have titled the film the way I have, but provided alternates used by others.
[right, dvd with one of the film's several English titles]
Yinhan Shuang Xing (1931) 银汉双星 (Two Galaxy Stars)
alternate English title: An Actor and an Actress
alternate English title: Two Stars
alternate English title: Two Stars of the Milky Way
Lianhua. 1931. B&W. Silent. Genre: Romance. Extant. 87 minutes. Direction: Shi Dongshan. Screenplay: Zhu Shilin, based on the novel of the same title by Zhang Henshui (1895-1967). Cinematography: Zhou Ke. Cast: Zi Luolan (Li Yueying), Jin Yan (Yang Yiyun), Gao Zhanfei (Gao Qi, the director), Ye Juanjuan (Chun Ping, the floozy), Zong Weigeng (Li Xudong, Yueying's father), Chen Yanyan (actress), Liu Jiqun (assistant director), Wang Cilong (studio head), Zhou Ke (cinematographer). Also: Zhou Wenzhu, Sun Yu, Cai Chusheng, Li Lili, Dong Shaofen, Tang Tianxiu, and the Lianhua Musical Performance Troupe.
[left, a musician and his daughter live quietly, but the arrival of a film crew on location is about to change their lives]
Li Yueying is a talented singer, living a reclusive life with her father Li Xudong on the outskirts of Shanghai. Her father, at one time a musician and composer in the South Seas, trained his daughter in singing. One spring day, a film crew from the Galaxy Motion Picture Company arrives in the area to shoot exteriors for a movie. The movie's director happens to hear Yueying singing and, impressed with her beauty and talent, invites her to audition before the studio's executives for the lead in the studio's upcoming first sound film. She performs with the studio's musical troupe and impresses everyone so much that she is invited to play the lead role in a costume drama set in the Tang Dynasty. The first time Yueying goes before the camera, she is attracted to Yang Yiyun, the actor playing the male lead. The two move from being a couple on the screen to falling in love off it. Everyone involved with the couple -- her father, their friends and co-workers, etc., approves of the relationship, thinking it an ideal match. Studio executives are especially happy at the pairing, seeing in it a publicity bonanza.
[right, Gao Zhanfei (front) as the director, with actual cinematographer Dong Ke in a rare role in front of the camera as well as behind it. Below, consulting with his lead actress (Chen Yanyan, center]
However, the situation starts to change, as Yiyun begins showing a growing unhappiness, a change Yueying interprets as dissatisfaction with their relationship. As it happens, practically everyone is unaware he already has a wife from a loveless traditional marriage arranged by his parents, and his pain is hard to dispel; he begins avoiding Yueying when he sees her every day, which hurts her, since she does not understand. At last, bitterly disappointed and discouraged by his seeming indifference to her, she claims she must retire from the screen due to illness, and she and her father return home. One day, Yiyun happens to be traveling in the area where his lost love and her father live, and standing outside the house he hears her lovely voice coming from an upstairs room, singing a sad ballad. His first impulse is to enter and explain everything, but at last he decides the hopelessness of their situation would only add to her misery, so he leaves quietly without seeing her again.
[right, on the set, making the movie within the movie.]
[left: backstage, a real-life romance soon develops.]
[right: something is destroying their relationship, but he can't or won't tell her what the problem is.]