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

  • 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


  • 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:

Related Posts

2023/04/23: Spider Women and Light Sabers @ SOAS
Light Sabers, Spider Women and Other Discoveries in the Digital Archives of Early Chinese Cinema April 23, 2023, 5pm Room RB01, Russell Square: College Buildings, SOAS, University of London Abstract: What can we learn about early Chinese film history from the expanding digital archive? Which stories, images, linguistic patterns, filmmaking techniques, and industry behaviors […]

Pan si dong 1927

Special Effects
Special effects were common in early Chinese cinema, especially in comedies and martial arts (wuxia) films of the 1920s

Spider in Cave of the Silken Web 1927

Animation and Cartoons 卡通與漫畫
Early Chinese cinema included both animated films and live-action films with animated and illustrated sequences

City Scenes 1935 Wan bros cartoon

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

Chen Yanyan on Chin-Chin 1934-05

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

Jin Yan Dianying zazhi no 4

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)

Sun Yu in UPS Pictorial 1935-01

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.

Li Lili studio portrait

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

Girl heroes of the grasslands

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

Zhao Dan in Crows and Sparrows 1949

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.

Jin Yan 2009 by Richard J Meyer

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.

Love Everlasting 1947

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.

The Great Road 1934 still

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?

Sports Queen 1934 production still track

Playthings 小玩意 (1933)
Artisan toymakers struggling to survive amidst war and competition from big business.

Playthings 1933

Daybreak 天明 (1933)
A young woman from the countryside, forced into prostitution, does espionage to aid the Northern Expedition.

Daybreak 1933

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?

Wild Rose 1932

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.

The Peach Girl (1931)

Poor Daddy 怕老婆 (1929)
Poor Daddy (1929) is a slapstick silent comedy starring Liu Jiqun

Poor Daddy 1929