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.

The film:

 

Da lu
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
104 minutes
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

17 minutes
Contents:

  • 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

12 minutes

Contents:

  • 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

Learn more:

“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:

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