The Minxin Film Company (aka China Sun Motion Picture Company) was one of China's early privately owned film enterprises, founded in Hong Kong in 1923 by three brothers, Li Minwei, Li Beishan and Li Haishan. Li Haishan assumed the post of president, with younger brother Li Minwei as vice-president, although as the photography expert his chief responsibility was to film news films, which the brothers at first saw as their studio's main mission.
In the spring of 1924, Li Minwei [Lai Man-wai in Cantonese] took his camera equipment to Beijing to make several short films of Mei Lanfang in the performance of selections from some of his most famous opera scenes, selections which which Li then edited into two longer movies. That winter, the brothers set up a new studio in Guangzhou, which Li Minwei used as his base for filming a batch of news documentaries that recorded Sun Yat-sen's anti-warlord activities.
[Key members of the Minxin Company at the main gate of its new Shanghai building. Li Minwei and his actress wife Lin Chuchu are the first two from the left. Note the studio also used the English name "China Sun Motion Picture Co." Adding an English name that was not a translation of its Chinese title was a common practice among Shanghai studios and movie theaters. Click on photo to view full size.]
But in spite of the Li Brothers' initial tilt toward newsfilms and documentaries, their breakthrough came in 1925, when Li Beihai wrote and directed《Rouge》which he had adapted from a story in《Strange Stories From a Chinese Studio》, the classic anthology of tales of the supernatural. It was the first full-length fiction film made in Hong Kong, with brother Li Minwei and his wife Lin Chuchu acting the leads. The film was very well-received by both audiences and critics, but the studio's Hong Kong era came to an abrupt halt just a year later, when the south China general strike reached Hong Kong and shut down the movie industry. So the brothers moved their operation to Shanghai and constructed a new studio building. In addition to making their own movies there, Minxin provided production facilities for smaller studios as well as processing and exhibiting services, and also opened the Minxin Film School to train new talent. Li Minwei took responsibility for production and technology and businessman Li Yingsheng 李英生 (no relation), a French-educated jeweler, was brought in as Minxin's chief financial and management officer. Until the studio could create its own pool of trained actors, onscreen talent consisted basically of family members and good friends, while directors and writers were recruited from other Shanghai studios, and included such outstanding early filmmakers as Ouyang Yuqian, Hou Yao and Sun Yu.
While the Minxin company had a very serious attitude at first, and looked upon all this creative talent as a potential dream team, the individual talents couldn't seem to agree on what the studio should be producing, and how, so they never really jelled as a creative unit. But in spite of these internal disagreements, with everyone going their own way, Minxin was very productive, in its first year of operation turning out《The God of Peace》,《Three Years Later》and《Why Not Her?》. In 1927, its first full year, the studio produced six more features, including《Greenwoods Heroine》, its first martial arts movie, and《Romance of the West Chamber》a very successful film that is still extant. Six more features were produced in 1928, among them: 《The Flying Shoes》, a children's film based on a German fairy tale;《Guan Yin Receives the Way》;《Mulan Joins the Army》, the first film treatment of the girl warrior legend; and《Five Avenging Women》which featured both Li Minwei's first and second wives in principal roles. With the studio's five productions in 1929, which included《Knight Errant》, with future matinee idol Jin Yan in his first leading role, the studio had made a total of 20 films covering a variety of topics. But later that year, as in Hong Kong, Minxin was hit by two financial blows outside its control: first, the worldwide economic depression hit Shanghai, shrinking the potential movie audience; and second, fiscal whiz Li Yingsheng resigned. The following year, the remaining company management decided it had no choice but to join the multi-studio merger that formed the Lianhua Film Company under new chief executive Luo Mingyou 罗明佑, which went on to be one of Shanghai's three dominant movie studios in the 1930s, along with Zhang Shichuan's Mingxing Company and Tianyi, the Shao (Shaw) Brothers Shanghai studio.
Principal sources [all in Chinese]:
Feng, Qun [Fung, Kwan] 凤群 (Guangdong Wuyi Univ., Coll. of Liberal Arts). Li Minwei ping zhuan 黎民伟评传 (A Critical Biography of Li Minwei). Beijing: Culture and Arts Press, 2009. ISBN 9787503936920.
"The contemporary significance of revolutionary filmmaker Li Minwei." -- retrieved 8-3-2010.
Li, Xi 黎锡 (Guangming Daily). "Li Minwei: at revolution with Mr. Sun Yat-sen." -- retrieved 8-03-2012.