Review of Laborer’s Love (劳工之爱情, 1922)

December 23, 2010

Review of Laborer’s Love (劳工之爱情; China, 1922), A Star Film Company production, B & W.  Silent, with Chinese and English intertitles (Premiered October 5, 1922 at the Olympic Theater in Shanghai).

Director: Zhang Shichuan
Screenwriter: Zheng Zhengqiu
Cinematographer: Zhang Weitao
Cast: Zheng Zhegu (Zheng the carpenter), Zheng Zhengqiu (Doctor Zhu), Yu Ying (Miss Zhu).
Running time: 22 MIN.

Shaoyi’s Rating: A (for historical significance)

Laborer's Love (Laogong zhi Aiqing; aka: Cheng the Fruit Seller, 1922), the earliest extant Chinese film.

Considering the “strong comic atmosphere” in the early scene of Chinese cinema, it is perhaps not a coincidence that the earliest extant Chinese-made feature is Laborer’s Love (aka Cheng the Fruit Seller, 1922), a slapstick that reminds one of Buster Keaton’s physical comedies in which pratfalls play a significant role in creating comic effects. Although also relying on exaggerated facial expressions and body movements to win laughter, including a magnificent out-of-focus shot that assumes the point of view of the carpenter-turned fruit seller, the nearly 30-minute long short reaches its funniest moment right when patrons of a noisy nightclub fall from the sliding ladders, one by one, landing on their buttocks and necks. The smart trick, namely turning the stair into a controllable slide, ultimately helps the fruit seller get the nod from the old doctor for his marriage proposal.

Using deceitful device to let people fall from the ladders and eventually gain personal profit creates a moral dilemma for the filmmakers. To make laughter morally justifiable, director Zhang Shichuan (1899-1954) and scriptwriter Zheng Zhengqiu (1889-1935), the founding members of the famed Star Film Company, used a few scenes to build up the moral character of the fruit seller. He is portrayed as a caring “laborer,” as he treats children with generosity and forgiveness; he is also depicted as a macho hero, as he dares to stand up to the street bullies. Meanwhile, the very fact that the fallen patrons are nothing but drunken gamblers and girl-chasers also adds certain legitimacy to the deceitful act. In this way, the filmmakers were able to avoid offending traditional Chinese moral values, which view such actions as taking advantage of other people’s difficulties or stoning a person when he is down morally unacceptable. As a matter of fact, the whole narrative of Laborer’s Love, despite paying “lip service to the ‘sanctity of working classes’…, a typical May Fourth slogan,” is an affirmation or “endorsement” of Confucian notion of filial piety.  All the actions taken by the fruit seller are meant to accomplish only one goal: winning the stamp of approval from his sweetheart’s father/the old doctor on his marriage proposal.


Photo with Jason Squire

December 22, 2010

With Jason Squire, who teaches movie business, internships, case studies and screenwriting at USC's School of Cinematic Arts. He is the author of "The Movie Business Book", the field’s primary textbook. Taken on December 20, 2010 at a LA Chinese restaurant after Jason returned from his film business seminar trip in Guangzhou, China.

AFI Names Top 10 American Films of 2010

December 13, 2010

True Grit (2010), written and directed by the Coen brothers, second adaptation of the 1968 novel by Charles Portis, previously adapted for film in 1969 starring John Wayne.

The American Film Institute has announced its list of top 10 American features of the year, which reads like a tally of leading Oscar contenders:

1. Black Swan
2. The Fighter
3. Inception
4. The Kids Are All Right
5. 127 Hours
6. The Social Network
7. The Town
8. Toy Story 3 (animation)
9. True Grit
10. Winter’s Bone

Last year five of the AFI’s top 10 films (The Hurt Locker, Precious, Up in the Air, Up, and A Serious Man) ended up scoring Best Picture nominations (An Education and District 9 weren’t eligible, while Avatar, Inglourious Basterds, and The Blind Side were just plain snubbed).

(Source: Entertainment Weekly)

Young Chinese Filmmaker Awarded at APSA

December 5, 2010

Peng Tao, emerging independent filmmaker of China, director of "Little Moth" (2007).

Four script development grants totalling $US100,000 to filmmakers from the Asia Pacific region were announced recently at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards.

The grants are the first to be offered by the MPA APSA Academy Film Fund, a new initiative of the Asia Pacific Screen Awards (APSA) and the Motion Picture Association (MPA) which is available exclusively to APSA Academy members.

Each of the four awarded filmmakers receives $US25,000 to be allocated to the script development of new feature film projects. Peng Tao (彭韬), an award-winning independent filmamker of China and director of Little Moth (血蝉, 2007) was awarded for his future project Straw Man (稻草人). Chinese Australian director Pauline Chan, one of the judges, said of director Peng:

“I really love that his work is able to depart from the traditional structure of Chinese filmmaking, which we, in the west are quite familiar with. To me he represents a new wave and a new voice in a really refined, restrained culture. He is able to find a traditional angle, a Chinese tradition, but he is able to bring the tradition into a new light so it’s not trapped and it surprises you.”

An international cultural initiative of the Queensland Government, Australia, APSA honours the works of filmmakers across a region covering 70 countries, one third of the earth and half the world’s film output. Films are judged on cinematic excellence and the way in which they attest to their cultural origins.

More than 87 submissions from across Asia-Pacific were received for this year’s inaugural MPA APSA Academy Film Fund. Submissions were assessed by an industry panel of three, headed by Ronin Films Managing Director and former APSA International Jury member Andrew Pike. Andrew was joined by Korean producer Hanna Lee, an APSA-Award winning producer for the 2007 Best Feature Film Secret Sunshine (Miryang) and a former APSA Jury member, and Chinese Australian director Pauline Chan, best known for her feature film Traps and director of the new Australian/Chinese co-production Mei Mei, currently in post-production.

For details, visit Asia Pacific Screen Awards official site.