Special effects were common in early Chinese cinema, especially in comedies and martial arts (wuxia) films of the 1920s. Filmmakers working in a variety of genres – comedy, action, melodrama, musical – used overcranking, undercranking, matte shots, superimposition, and a variety of other trick cinematographic effects to delight and entertain viewers.
Below is a sampling of special effects sequences from films as diverse as Laborer’s Love (1922), Cave of the Silken Web (1927), The Mighty Hero Gan Fengchi (1928), Woman Warrior of the Wild River (1930), An Amorous History of the Silver Screen (1931), and The Great Road (1934). The films in the related posts below all include special effects.
You can watch many more examples on the Gags and special effect playlist.
Speedy treatment of patients in the doctor’s office in Laborer’s Love (1922):
A woman transforms into a spider on her wedding night in Cave of the Silken Web (1927):
Light sabers (“flying swords”) in The Mighty Hero Gan Fengchi (1928):
An adversary traps the woman warrior under a magic cage during a fight scene in Woman Warrior of the Wild River (1930):
An actress gets a behind-the-scenes look at how supernatural special effects are created on a studio lot in An Amorous History of the Silver Screen (1931):
Martyred road workers (and their steamroller) are resurrected in the mind of a survivor of an enemy air rade in The Great Road (1934):
Wanderings of Three Hairs the Orphan 三毛流浪記 (1949)
Follows the misadventures of Sanmao as he tries to fill his belly on the streets of Shanghai. Adapted from the comic strip by Zhang Leping.
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.
Hua Mu Lan 木蘭從軍 (1939)
A young woman takes her father's place in the army and protects the Tang empire from invaders in this wartime adaptation of the Mulan legend.
Street Angels 馬路天使 (1937)
Zhou Xuan sings two hit songs in this social drama by experimental filmmaker Yuan Muzhi, costarring heartthrob Zhao Dan.
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?
City Scenes 都市風光 (1935)
Yuan Muzhi's experimental directorial debut shows a country family's farcical attempts to make it big in Shanghai.
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.
Goddess 神女 (1934)
Ruan Lingyu stars as a single mother in Shanghai struggling to give her young son an education, in the face of exploitation and social prejudice.
Laborer’s Love 勞工之愛情 (1922)
Laborer's Love (Laogong zhi aiqing, 1922) is the earliest known extant complete film made by Chinese filmmakers.