Lianai yu Yiwu (1931) 恋爱与义务 (Love and Duty)
alternate English title: (Love and Obligation)
Lianhua. B&W. Silent. 15 reels. Extant. Premiered April 5, 1931 at the Guanghua Theater in Shanghai. Direction: Bu Wancang. Screenplay: Zhu Shilin, adapted from the novel of the same title by Polish author Madame Stephanie Rosen-hoa. Cinematography: Huang Shaofen. Principal cast: Ruan Lingyu (Yang Naifan and her first daughter, Huang Xiaoshan), Jin Yan (Li Zuyi), Chen Yanyan (Li Ping'er, Naifang's second daughter), Liu Jiqun (Mr. Yang), Li Ying (Huang Daren).
[left, a fateful first meeting. Ruan Lingyu, left, and Jin Yan. Click on any image to view full size.]
On a university campus, a young man named Li Zuyi sees a female student and, struck by her beauty, follows her home and succeeds in making her acquaintance. He learns her name is Yang Naifan, and like him her father is a prominent Shanghai businessman. This leads to further meetings between the two and a blossoming romance. But when he approaches her father with a marriage proposal, the father adamantly refuses his permission: in spite of the young suitor's respectable background and prospects, Mr. Yang has long planned for his daughter to eventually marry a young man named Huang Daren, the son of an old friend from Yang's native village, and in such matters the young people's personal feelings are of no consequence.
[right, a blossoming romance]
[left, in despair at facing a marriage she doesn't want]
Li goes away, and the unhappy Naifan is married to her father's choice. But the bridegroom is not too happy with the situation either. A recent college graduate just beginning a journalism career, Huang also believes in marital freedom, but feels filial duty demands he accede to his father's wishes, and vows to make the best of it. So the marriage is loveless, although Daren is very kind to his wife, and devotes himself to building his career for their future. In time they have two children, a daughter Xiaoshan and a son Yide, and Daren's hard work begins to pay off for the family when he is promoted to a management position at his newspaper.
[left, not the typical happy family]
One day, Li Zuyi and Yang Naifan chance to meet again in a park, and soon rekindle their old love. At last, she gives in to his entreaties and tearfully leaves her family to elope with him. The elopement shocks society, and severely damages the couple economically, as the elder Mr. Li angrily severs all ties with his son, including firing him from the family business. And although he has a good education, Zuyi is shunned everywhere when he tries to find other, meaningful employment. He is forced to take any unskilled and low-paying job he can find. Yang's husband Daren, devastated by the loss of Naifan, blames himself for her leaving, as he believes his devotion to work left her feeling neglected.
[right, reviving romance over a glass of wine]
Yang Naifan and Li Zuyi survive in a shabby apartment, although hard work and frequent unemployment begin taking a physical toll on Li. When the couple have a daughter they name Ping'er, the added financial burden forces Zuyi to take a second job. Before long, his health breaks down completely, and he dies. When she loses the love of her life, Yang has thoughts about suicide, but resists these for the sake of their daughter Ping'er. As the years pass, Ping'er grows into an attractive teenager while Naifan, a gifted seamstress, supports them both by dressmaking and tailoring.
[right, now that we're together, what could possibly go wrong?]
[left, she almost breaks down at being so close to the daughter she abandoned years before. Ruan Lingyu in a dual role.]
By the time Huang Daren's children are teenagers, he is now the newspaper's publisher and has broadened its responsibility to include book publishing. When one book becomes a best-seller, he uses some of the profits to establish a society for relief of the poor, which makes him a major and popular celebrity. When a local group announces plans to hold a banquet honoring Huang and his contributions, he hires Yang Naifan to make the dress clothes his son and daughter will wear to the event. When she measures her children for the costumes, Yang is barely able to control her emotions at seeing them again. Even Huang fails to recognize her. Increasingly depressed and haunted by guilt, Yang again considers suicide.
[left, to spare her second daughter's chance at happiness, she decides on a drastic move. Ruan Lingyu and Chen Yanyan.]
The final blow comes when a young man named Guan Kesheng proposes marriage to Ping'er but has second thoughts upon learning her family history. For her daughter's happiness, Yang Naifan decides to end it all, and drowns herself in the river. Before doing so, she leaves a letter for Huang Daren, asking him to take in her daughter as his own. Although he is again saddened and frustrated with the way things have turned out, Daren announces acceptance of Pinger as his goddaughter, and begins making arrangements for her marriage to Guan Kesheng, the boy of her choice, a choice neither he nor his late wife ever had.