Tuesday, April 8, 2008

7. Broken Blossoms Or The Yellow Man And The Girl - 1919

Director: D. W. Griffith

Synopsis: A Chinese man immigrates to England. He opens a shop in the opium filled docks. Lucy is abused by her father, the boxer, and spends a lot of her time on the docks feeling sad for herself. After being beaten one time, she ends up in the immigrant's shop. He takes care of her. The father finds out, ransacks the shop and beats Lucy to death. Chen finds the body and kills himself.

Review: This is a very good movie. For the first time, I can say that without basing it on technical achievement. This is just a really solid movie based on it's own terms. It's not a feel good movie as you can tell from the synopsis (everyone is killed...oh yeah, and the child abuse), but it's still really good.

I really want to talk about Lillian Gish who really shines in this. She's been in all of Griffith's movies so far on the list, but this is the first time where she's been really amazing. I felt worried every time her dad started threatening her because she sold it so well. It's enough when she's told smile, she physically force up her mouth with her hands (see still) which shouldn't work but does.

I really have to discuss the abuse in this movie (how's that for a segue?). It's pretty startling honestly. I knew the basic premise, but I couldn't have predicted how bad it would be. The physical connection is off screen, but it's so much worse that way. Take note modern gore lovers, what I'm seeing in my head is worse than what Griffith would have shown us...until the closet scene that is which is just brutal.

While Griffith is atoning for his racist sins of The Birth Of A Nation by having a Chinese character as the hero, there's still a fairly high level of racism. The Chinese men are played by white guys , but this is not atypical for the next 40-50 years). The Chinese guys' names are never used (though the main character's name is on his shop). Also, there is this intertitle:

I seriously laughed at this.  Couldn't you call him Cheng Huan once?

So, two steps forward one step back I guess.

Other than showing that Griffith knew how to stage a prize fight, the boxing match seemed pretty pointless. I think it actually takes away from the suspense. It goes on too long, doesn't relate to the main story and it could have been placed better. Even moving it earlier might have helped.

This is probably my favorite movie by Griffith so far. Watch it here.

Score: 8/10

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