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13th March 2007 22:10:00
Posted by Noel Megahey

The Chinese Film Classics Collection

News
Cinema Epoch presents The Chinese Film Classics Collection: a series of rare silent and early sound classics from China's Golden Age of Cinema, all available for the first time on DVD! Many of these films are regarded as being among the finest Chinese films ever made. Included among the titles is Mu Fei’s classic 1948 drama Spring In A Small Town, remade in 2002 as Springtime In A Small Town by Tian Zhuangzhuang. The region-free DVDs are released in the United States on 8th May 2007 and will contain new essays written by film critics Andy Klein, Wade Major and Ray Greene.



Spring In A Small Town
Set in a secluded, run-down house, Spring in a Small Town is a psychological exploration of the female protagonist Zhou Yuwen and her intricate relationships with her sickly husband, Dai Liyan and her former lover Zhang Zhichen, a doctor who unexpectedly comes for a visit... Communist historiography censured the film for its petit-bourgeois ‘decadence,’ its ideological ‘backwardness’ and its alleged ‘narcotic effect’ on the audience at a time of war. Since the 1980s, however, it has been critically acclaimed as the best Chinese film of all time and a classic example of ‘Eastern’ cinema. Was named "the Greatest Chinese Film Ever Made" by the Hong Kong Film Awards Association.



Song At Midnight
An exciting Chinese interpretation of The Phantom of the Opera! Ten years after supposedly being killed in an opera house, Song Danping returns to relate his story - when he fell in love with the daughter of a rich feudal lord, he was beaten, disfigured with acid and left to die in the burning opera house by her father. He's been waiting in the rebuilt theatre for someone to take over his artistic mantle and he's chosen the opera troupe's new young star.



Crossroads / Daybreak - Double feature.

Crossroads (1937). Directed by Shen Xiling, with Bai Yang, Zao Dan. As the situation in China worsened in the 30s, films became bolder and darker, yet often still with an optimistic spirit. Crossroads follows four recent graduates: Zhao wants to be a writer but is stuck proofreading; Tang wants to be an artist but is hired to dress windows. Xu has given up hope, while Liu has “gone north” to fight the Japanese. Zhao lives in a crowded boardinghouse with an annoying female neighbor. Unbeknownst to each other, the two meet on a bus and a romance develops. Combining elements of screwball comedy with social observation, the film features Zhao Dan playing the writer Zhao, a superb actor with a Jimmy Stewart nonchalance that made him a great audience favorite. 110 minutes.

Daybreak (1933). Directed by Sun Yu. With Li Lili, Gao Zhanfei, Yuan Congmei. Perhaps more than any other director working at that time, Sun consistently sought to portray the working class affected by feudalism and imperialism. In Daybreak, Li plays a villager forced into prostitution in Shanghai, while her lover (Gao) joins the revolutionaries. After she helps him flee the authorities, she is sentenced to death by a firing squad, a scene of devastating impact. Silent with original music score by Toshiyuki Hiraoka. 116 min.



Street Angel / Twin Sisters - Double feature.
Both films were among Asia weekly's list of the "100 Greatest Chinese films of the Century".

Street Angel (1937). Directed by Yuan Muzhi. With Zhao Dan, Zhou Xuan. Zhao Dan stars as Chen Xiaoping, in love with Hong, a young woman who fled Manchuria with her sister after the Japanese invaded. When Hong is sold by her corrupt guardian to a local gangster, Chen and Hong run away, hiding in another part of Shanghai. Hong’s sister, who herself had been forced into prostitution, visits and muses about a new life, yet all these characters will eventually have to accept that there is no real escape. Loosely based on Frank Borzage’s silent classic Seventh Heaven, a great hit when shown in Shanghai, Street Angels shows how its characters, even in a teeming metropolis as Shanghai, are abandoned by society. 90 minutes.

Twin Sisters (1933). Directed by Zheng Zheng Qiu. With Hu Die, Zheng Xiao Qiu. Leftist melodrama at its finest. Dabao and Erbao (both played by Hu Die) are twin sisters born to village ne’er do well Mr. Zhao. When Zhao decides to leave, his wife begs him to take one of the girls, fearing she cannot raise both; he takes Erbao. Years later, Erbao is married to a warlord, for whom her father now works. Back in the village, hard times force Dabao to leave home looking for work. Having just had a son, Erbao is looking for a nanny, and she hires Dabao, neither woman realizing that they are sisters. Chinese literature and consequently cinema are full of “comparison narratives,” parallel stories that compare the lives of relatives or friends, championing the hardworking poor over the decadent but wealthy ruling class. 90 minutes.



The Big Road / Queen Of Sports - Double Feature.
Two silent film classics by Sun Yu, one of the greatest directors in the history of Chinese Cinema!

The Big Road (1934). Directed by Sun Yu. With Li Lili, Jin Yan. One of the signal works of the “leftist” Shanghai cinema. Six friends decide to head “north” and become involved in the construction of a highway crucial for the Chinese army. (In China at that time, “going north” meant going to Manchuria to fight against the Japanese who had invaded China in 1931, a topic that could only be discussed in muted terms due to government censorship.) A hymn to the solidarity necessary for China to move ahead (and defeat the enemy), The Big Road shows its young protagonists only discovering who they are when they become part of a collective action. The theme song, “Dalu,” became a popular song for left-wing groups. 103 minutes. Silent with sound sequences and sound effects.

Queen Of Sports (1934). Directed by Sun Yu. With Li Lili, Zhang Yi. One of the silent era’s biggest stars, Lii starred in over a dozen films, contributing greatly to their rapturous reception in China. Queen of Sports, one of the most popular, is about an athletic village girl (seen through most of the film in shorts!) who comes to Shanghai to discover the true nature of competition and love. Chinese intertitles with English translation 85 min. Silent with original music score by Toshiyuki Hiraoka.



Also released on March 13:

Romance Of The Western Chamber (1927). Based on Wang Shifu's (Yuan Dynasty, 1234-1368) famous play of the same name, The Romance of the Western Chamber tells the story of a young scholar Zhang Sheng who goes to the capital city to take the highest imperial examination. During his stay in a temple, he meets Cui Yingying, daughter of the Prime Minister and immediately falls in love with her.
Soon, a group of robbers besiege them. Yingying's mother declares that she will marry off her daughter to whoever saves them. Zhang Sheng manages to do that with his friend's help. But Yingying's mother refuses to keep her words because Zhang is a poor scholar. However, Yingying and Zhang Sheng's love is so strong that, with the help of Hong Niang, Yingying's maid, the couple breaks the traditional barrier. Silent with an original music score by Toshiyuki Hiraoka.





About Noel Megahey
Noel Megahey has been writing for The Digital Fix and its former incarnation DVD Times since 2000. He has contributed over 1000 reviews of international, arthouse and independent cinema, and currently specialises in reviews of the latest anime releases.


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