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Lang tao sha / Waves Washing the Sand

Lang tao sha / Waves Washing the Sand (1936)

Not on the island: food

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang (uncertain)
Date: 1936

Genre: Drama
Description: Criminals and cops, good people, different circumstances yield different results, change of fortune, tragedy, a hard life

Cast: Jin Yan, Zhang Zhizhi (imdB doesn’t list him in the other movies I’ve seen with him, so I’m not sure if this is him)

Crew of note:

Runtime: 70 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
A sailor comes home from a voyage to find his wife with another man. Their argument escalates, and the other man dies. A detective arrives to solve the case, and goes to the ends of the Earth to track him down and bring him to justice.

review
I was laughing while writing that summary, because it sounds more like a Hollywood blockbuster than a great Chinese drama. That really is the premise though, and from it we get one of my favorites from this age.

The focus of this film is not so much the chase, but the characters involved in it. In fact, the case itself is rather uneventful, and takes place over several years; not exactly the makings of an action flick. By focusing on the characters though, Wu sets up a great dynamic for their eventually meeting. Without all the characterization, without showing the long and arduous path towards their conjoined fates, the movie’s conclusion would just not be as effective.

I was able to find a review of this film that focuses more on its technical aspects, and I don’t think I can do much better than it. It has spoilers though, so be warned. Clickity-click.

While that review focused on camera, framing, narrative structure, etc, what I was most impressed with was the meaning of Wu’s tale. The reversal of fortunes, the final circumstances, and a great tragedy played out by two well-defined, well acted characters. Solidarity, unity, ironies of class struggle, how changes of circumstance can change one’s perspective… all of these themes can clearly be seen, especially in the illuminating ending.

conclusion
The film is artful, honest, and meaningful, three things that propaganda films (a norm at the time) rarely do in unison. This film has so far escaped even the cinephile public (lang tao sha 1936 yields only 86 non-redundant results, some of which contain little or no information), and that’s a shame. Great movies like this should never be left forgotten.

things to take note of
The two main characters– their backgrounds, personalities, fortunes, etc.
The sounds–wind, water, waves crashing, etc.

best moment
The opening scenes
The island

why you should watch this
One of the best plots, with an intelligent proposition
Wu Yonggang might be my favorite Chinese director from the silent era

rating: 8.5

scorecard
Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B
Music: B
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Reminds me of Sun Yu’s “Huoshan Qingxie / Loving Blood of the Volcano” for some reason

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Shen nü / The Goddess

Shen nü / The Goddess (1934)

Woman god = Street walker? Obviously, the cover translators were either sexists or failed Chinese class

Director: Wu Yonggang
Writers: Wu Yonggang
Date: 1934

Genre: Drama, Silent
Description: a woman, a hard life, prostitution, Depression-Era China, tragedy

Cast: Ruan Lingyu, Tian Jian, Li Keng, Li Junpan, Tang Huaiqiu

Crew of note:

Runtime: 85 mins.
Color: Black and White
Trivia:

summary
Ruan Lingyu is a single mother and a woman of the night. Yep, a prostitute (take note, in this day prostitution was a taboo subject in China and pretty much everywhere else in the world). Life is difficult in Depression-era China, especially when you have a manipulative, abusive man acting as your self-appointed pimp. He’s also fat and greedy, and isn’t about to let them go. And all she wants is for her son to get an education.

review
Look through all the films made in or before 1934, and try to find films starring a prostitute. Not just a co-star or tragic role player, but the actual center of the movie. I don’t think you’ll find many. And how many of these films will treat their heroine with as much humanity, with as much grace and understanding as “The Goddess”? Scratch that–look at the title, they’re actually calling her a Goddess, despite having an occupation that is seen with abundant derision and shame.

Yet Ruan Lingyu’s character proves that she is, indeed, a Goddess. She works, despite her shame (and the camera follows suit, with panning down to her feet as she stands on a street corner), not for her own lavishness.. and not even just to make ends meet. All this is to send her son to school, so that he can have a good life that she could otherwise not provide. Her occupation isn’t commendable, but her motives and unflinching desire to give her son everything that she can is overwhelming.

This is the real strength of this film: her character. In a day (in an entire country even!) when women were still seen as pretty dressed up dolls, when single-motherhood was an absurd concept and all women needed a man to survive, The Goddess grants us a woman unlike any other from this era. Faced with tragedy, and even more obstacles that stand in her way (literally blocking her doorway), she does not crumble, does not run away. She works, she fights, she puts on a brave face. After seeing this film, I am sure you will agree: Ruan Lingyu is a Goddess.

conclusion
In Ruan Lingyu’s short but storied career, many films stand out. However Lingyu as the eponymous Goddess, an appropriate title that she proves she is worth, stands as one of her most memorable roles. She is reknowned for her strong, independent, and “modern” portrayals of women, and this is perhaps one of the best from this era.

things to take note of
Lingyu’s facial expressions
The calm humanism Wu Yonggang’s script and Lingyu’s acting give the main character
Notice how almost every paragraph starts with “Bla bla Ruan Lingyu blabla”?

best moment
Whenever Lingyu is able to make ends meet, and when she’s with her kid

why you should watch this
Ruan Lingyu is a legend of Chinese cinema, and rightfully so. Plus, this is one of her best performances.

rating: 8.8

scorecard
Plot: C+
Cast: A+++
Cinematography: B
Music: C+
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Yuen Ling-yuk / Center Stage, the 1992 movie about her life starring Maggie Cheung
Other tragic films starring Ruan Lingyu, such as:
Xiao Wanyi / Small Toys (1933)
Xin nü xing / New Woman (1934)
Tao hua qi xue ji / The Peach Girl (1931)
and her last film, Guo feng / National Pride (1935)

Yurika / Eureka

Yurika / Eureka (2000)

Possibly: Ray-ban models after their limo breaks down

Director: Aoyama Shinji
Writers: Aoyama Shinji
Date: 2000

Genre: Drama
Description: Moving on, life after a tragedy, busjacking, murder, whodunnit, road movie, quiet characters, learning to live, rediscovering life

Cast: Yakusho Koji, Miyazaki Aoi, Miyazaki Masaru, Saito Yoichiro, Mitsuishi Ken, Ono Machiko, etc.

Crew of note: Jim O’Rourke and Aoyama, along with Yamada Isao and Albert Ayler, scored the movie

Runtime: 217 mins. (yes, 3 hours and 40 minutes)
Color: Sepia-toned BW. Or does that count as color?
Trivia: Helpless (1996) by Aoyama is somewhat of an unconnected prequel, and Sad Vacation (2007) ties both together

summary
Kozue and Naoki, two kids off to school one day, get on Makoto’s bus and take a seat in the back. Wrong place at the wrong time I suppose, as a crazed busjacking madman holds all the passengers hostage with a gun. A shoot out ensues, and only Makoto, Kozue and Naoki survive. Faced with the pressure of raising two traumatized children, their mother decides to leave their home, leaving them with no parents. Makoto, filled with inexplicable emotions that resemble guilt and disenchantment, visits the children only to discover that they are alone. He decides to stay, and they try to rediscover life after their shared tragedy.

review
3:40. It may seem like a daunting number, or an over-indulgent one. But truly, this is a movie that deserves to be even longer. Deep, quiet, somber.. all these words can describe this film. But the entire movie moves with so little words that it seems unfair to pin it with them. The two children barely speak, yet everything they do and everything that happens to them, is a voice of so much more meaning. The characters are some of the most human you will ever meet on screen: sincere, honest, fragile, conflicted… never over-wrought or contrived. They are never perfect; in fact they are often quite frustrating, but it is impossible not to feel a genuine concern for them. I can’t even say enough about Miyazaki Aoi, who is stunning in this film.

The sepia-toned black and white with slow, barely moving shots (mostly stills and slow panning shots) are similar to the pace and characters. Beautiful and meaningful, of course. Music is sparse yet effective. If you know who Jim O’Rourke is, and if you’ve watched other Aoyama movies, you know the music will be a treat.

This is truly about life, the courage to live on, and the process of rediscovering yourself and your life after tragedy. The minor episodes that make up the rest of their lives should be seen and not anticipated by reading a review. I have not yet seen another movie with such a theme that rivals this, and it truly deserves its running time. Many consider this to be a depressing film, but it more frequently made me smile watching their endless days unfold. I’ve babbled so far; if only silence could be adequately conveyed with words.

conclusion
If you have 3:40 worth of free time, with absolutely no distractions, WATCH THIS MOVIE. Best with a good pair of headphones in a quiet room.

things to take note of
How the color affects the over-all appearance of the film
The two kids’ faces
Miyazaki Aoi

best moment
Is it wrong if I say I love Miyazaki Aoi?

why you should watch this
One of the most beautifully colored films evar
Miyazaki Aoi’s silent performance
It doesn’t feel like 3:40
Humanistic. Maybe even inspiring?

rating: 9

scorecard
Plot: B+
Cast: A
Cinematography: A
Music: B
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Gaichu / Harmful Insects by Shiota Akihiko (also with Miyazaki Aoi)
Riri Shushu no subete / All About Lily Chou-Chou by Iwai Shunji
9 Souls by Toyoda Toshiaki because they ride in a bus?

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