Module 4: The Great Road (1934)
Laid-off road workers in Shanghai head to the interior to build a great road across China. Their task becomes more urgent when “the enemy” (Japan) invades, and the army needs a road to the front. A fantastic, genre-defying ensemble piece that, like Sports Queen, makes work look fun. Raymond King, the “Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai,” co-stars with Li Lili and emerging star Chen Yanyan, with musical numbers by all three and a few surprises – including a scene of full frontal nudity.
This module corresponds to chapter 5 in the book Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949.
Alternative English titles: The Big Road, The Highway
Written and directed by Sun Yu
Music: George Njal (Nie Er)
Studio: United Photoplay Service (Lianhua)
Year of production: 1934
Date of release: January 1, 1935
Cast: Jin Yan, Chen Yanyan, Li Lili, Zhang Yi, Zheng Junli, Luo Peng, Han Langen, Zhang Zhizhi, Shang Guanwu, Liu Qiong, Liu Jiqun, Hong Jingling
English subtitles translated by Christopher Rea
Video lecture 1: Roadwork (and play) ahead
- National construction as a fun road trip
- Plot summary
- Stars Jin Yan (Raymond King) and Li Lili
- Ensemble casting
- Dubbed songs of a “silent” film
Video lecture 2: Sex and politics, ghosts and special effects
- Tightening censorship and regulation of films in the late 1920s and 1930s
- Sex and politics
- The bodies shown in The Great Road are not politically correct, but to whom, and why?
- The Great Road and the Long March (1934-1935)
- Genre: Espionage pulp
- Ghosts and special effects
“Roadbuilding Pioneers” song, sung by Jin Yan, is the first of four songs in the film, which were also sold in 1935 as a phonograph record.
“Song of the Great Road” appears first in this scene, and again in later scenes.
This scene of fun and camaraderie in the roadside restaurant showcases the Lianhua ensemble:
“New Song of Fengyang,” sung by Li Lili:
Animated special effect:
Orchid asks Jasmine “Who do you love?”:
Orchid and Jasmine discover the male road workers bathing naked in the river:
“Yanyan’s Song” about swallows showcases the singing talents of Lianhua Studio’s rising star Chen Yanyan, whose name means “swallow.” The set piece occurs at the film’s midpoint.
Ghost steamroller special effect from the end of the film:
Special effects were common in early Chinese cinema, especially in comedies and martial arts (wuxia) films of the 1920s
Animation and Cartoons 卡通與漫畫
Early Chinese cinema included both animated films and live-action films with animated and illustrated sequences
Chen Yanyan 陳燕燕
Chen Yanyan 陳燕燕 had long film career in Republican China, post-war Taiwan, and Hong Kong, lasting from the 1930s to the 1980s
Jin Yan 金焰
Jin Yan, also known as Raymond King, was a Korea-born actor who starred in many silent films produced by Lianhua Studio
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.
2021/03/01-05/12: Association for Chinese Animation Studies inaugural conference
A Zoom webinar featuring 19 panels of new academic research on Chinese animation, hosted by HKUST
2019/10/03-11-16: Zheng Junli films at BAMPFA
A retrospective on actor-director Zheng Junli, featuring 10 of his films, several of which were restored by BAMPFA
Jin Yan (2009), by Richard J. Meyer
Jin Yan: The Rudolph Valentino of Shanghai tells the remarkable story of the “Emperor of Film,” who dominated the golden age of Chinese silent movies. Jin Yan achieved his greatest stardom in the 1930s, when women literally threw themselves at his feet.
Love Everlasting 不了情 (1947)
A young professional woman is hired to care of the young daughter of a married man, only to find herself in an impossible position.
The Great Road 大路 (1934)
In this genre-bending romp, a band of road workers, aided by two women, build a great road to help China fight off invaders.
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.
Wild Rose 野玫瑰 (1932)
A vivacious country lass and a rich Shanghai boy fall in love. What will happen to young love when an uninhibited girl meets urban high society?
The Peach Girl 桃花泣血記 (1931)
The Peach Girl co-stars Ruan Lingyu and Jin Yan as lovers in rural China tragically separated by social class.