“Come have a look! Come see the sights! / Streets ablaze with brilliant lights” Everybody wants to go to Shanghai! What will country folk find in the big city? How will the metropolis transform them? Why should you never rent a flat to an intellectual? Or never fall in love with the daughter of a pawn shop owner?
You’ve seen the silent slapstick comedy Laborer’s Love (1922); now check out the most gag-driven Chinese sound film of the 1930s. Yuan Muzhi’s directorial debut is full of surprises, including Yuan appearing as a one-eyed peep show operator, a “City Fantasia” by Huang Zi, a theme song by Y.R. Chao 趙元任, and a cartoon by the Wan brothers.
City Scenes is also something of a dry run for Yuan’s masterpiece Street Angels (1937), starring Zhou Xuan and Zhao Dan. Appearing in a bit part in this social farce is 21-year-old Lan Ping, aka Jiang Qing, who in 1938 became the fourth wife of Mao Zedong. This copy of the film contains several Lan Ping scenes cut from other copies currently in circulation, including one that has the future Mrs. Mao’s character jumping up and down after winning a windfall at the Shanghai gold futures exchange. Gu Menghe, who plays the dastardly villain in Song at Midnight (1937), appears here in a comic role. Also listen for a reference to the recent hit The Great Road (1934). An underappreciated early sound film full of avant garde cinematic techniques.
Alternative English titles: Scenes of City Life, Cityscape
Directed by Yuan Muzhi
Denton Film Co.
Year of release: 1935
Cast: Zhang Xinzhu, Tang Na, Zhou Boxun, Gu Menghe, Bai Lu, Lan Ping, Cai Ruohong, Wu Yin, Yuan Muzhi
English translation by Christopher Rea