Module 2: Sports Queen (1934)
Sports Queen is a film made to order that offers a few surprises. Li Lili was coming into her own as one of Lianhua Studio’s star actors, and Sports Queen was made to showcase her “healthy,” “athletic”, and playful persona. Its release was timed to coincide with an actual major sports event, the precursor to the Asian Games. The film also espouses ideas promoted in the Nationalist government’s New Life Movement, launched earlier in the year, especially that China needs to strengthen the body politic by strengthening actual bodies. In three ways, then, Sports Queen is very much of the moment. But the filmmakers and the star have fun with this didactic premise, celebrating comedy, playfulness, the joys of motion, sex appeal and even risqué politics.
This module corresponds to chapter 3 in the book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949.
Alternative English titles: Queen of Sports, The Athletic Queen
Director/screenplay: Sun Yu
Date of release: April 14, 1934
85 minutes, 10 reels
Cast: Li Lili, Zhang Yi, Yin Xu, Bai Lu, Wang Moqiu, Gao Weilian, He
Feiguang, Shang Guanwu, Li Junpan, Han Langen, Liu Jiqun, Yin
Video lecture 1: “You have a body – put it to work!”
- Plot summary (minutes 3:30-5:25)
- Star actor Li Lili’s healthy, athletic, playful, sexy persona
- China’s emerging sports culture
- Storytelling: The coming-of-age narrative of Sports Queen
Video lecture 2: Bodies and shapes in motion
- Two types of visual pleasure in Sports Queen: bodies and shapes
- Influences of Hollywood filmmakers, from Busby Berkeley to F.W. Murnau
- Documentary style: Sports Queen, which was released to coincide with a real-life sports meet, presents itself as a newsreel-in-the-making
- Buy Lux Toilet Soap! The convergence of athletics culture, cinematic culture, and consumer culture in Sports Queen
- The influence of Sports Queen on later Chinese films, including Woman Basketball Player No. 5 (1957) and Beauty Parade (1961)
Antecedents in 1920s Chinese cinema
Women’s synchronized calisthenics appear in the first scene of the silent wuxia/swordswoman film Woman Warrior White Rose (1929):
Clips from Sports Queen:
Slapstick sequence: Young Master Gao meets Lin Ying:
Hollywood-style voyeurism in Sports Queen (compare with Joan Blondell clip below):
Movie stars making cameos in this sports meet sequence include Lim Chocho (Lin Chuchu), her son Henry Lai (Li Keng, who plays the son in Goddess), Gao Zhanfei, Wang Renmei, and Zheng Junli:
Cameo by director Sun Yu, as the furious rickshaw-puller:
The women’s dormitory sequence:
Compare the “A New Life” sequence in a women’s dormitory starting a minute 18:46 in Sports Queen with the dormitory sequence in Footlight Parade (1933):
Compare the scene of Li Lili’s character putting on nylons after minute 45:00 in Sports Queen with Joan Blondell’s scene in Footlight Parade:
Teaching Resources for Early Chinese Cinema
The Chinese Film Classics Project is a research, teaching, and translation initiative aimed at making early Chinese cinema more accessible to the general public
Sun Yu 孫瑜
Sun Yu, an influential film director, made his name in the silent era as one of the most prolific and talented filmmakers of United Photoplay Services (Lianhua Studio)
Li Lili 黎莉莉
Li Lili appeared as a physically robust, playful, and outgoing "sweet big sister" in many Lianhua films of the silent and sound eras.
Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1929 (2021), by Christopher Rea
An essential guide to the first golden age of Chinese cinema, offering detailed introductions to fourteen films.
New Women 新女性 (1935)
A contemporary social drama about “the woman question.” What are women’s lives like in China today? And what should they be?
Sports Queen 體育皇后 (1934)
A country girl joins a women's sports academy in Shanghai and becomes a national track star. Will she learn the true athletic spirit?
Playthings 小玩意 (1933)
Artisan toymakers struggling to survive amidst war and competition from big business.
Daybreak 天明 (1933)
A young woman from the countryside, forced into prostitution, does espionage to aid the Northern Expedition.
Woman Warrior White Rose 女俠白玫瑰 (1929)
In this partially-extant silent action film, a female athlete becomes a swashbuckling hero and saves the family herding ground from a gang who plans to sell it to foreigners