19 February 2017

THE BFI PRESENTS: THE SPRING RIVER FLOWS EAST. (1947) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




THE SPRING RIVER FLOWS EAST. (1947) DIRECTED BY CAI CHUSHENG AND ZHENG JUNLI. STARRING BAI YANG, TAO JIN, WU YIN, SHU XIUWEN AND SHANGGUAN YUNZHU. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

'How much sorrow can one man have to bear?
As much as a river of spring water flowing east.'

This fantastic three-hour-long epic melodrama could be considered the Chinese GONE WITH THE WIND, it's so filled with war, pain, suffering, war-induced separations and glamorous dresses. I was glued to it for the whole three hours and my interest never wavered once.

It's a film of two parts, really, and both parts were released one after the other in 1947 to great critical and commercial acclaim. It's considered to be one of the greatest Chinese-language films ever made and I'd highly recommend it to anyone who loves a good old melodrama of a length you could only refer to as butt-numbing, haha. Let's take a wee look at the plot now, my darling movie buddies.

It's the story of a man called Zhongliang who gets separated from his wife, baby son and elderly mother during the Second Sino-Japanese War. As far as I can make out, this was a conflict that took place between China and Japan from 1937 to 1945, eventually sort of blending into WW2. For the history buffs out there, the first of these Sino-Japanese wars happened in 1894 and lasted till the following year.

I don't like to lay blame but it looks as if Japan's imperialist policy was the cause of both these wars. The Japanese wanted to extend their influence as far as they could to get their hands on raw materials and resources such as food and labour. As you'll see from the film, it also looks as if the Chinese people were pretty badly oppressed by the Japanese during this period, of whom it was often said back then that they were a 'cruel race.' 

The film concentrates heavily on the terrible suffering, hardships and privations endured by Zhongliang's little family in his absence. While he's off gadding about hiding from the Japanese, his wife Sufen, his little son and his dear old Mum are starving and putting up with awful abuse from their Japanese masters.

Thankfully, I've never known what it's like to be hungry, but to watch Sufen, little Kangsheng and Sufen's mother-in-law scrabbling about for food or slaving in the paddy fields for the Japanese would surely make you appreciate what you have.

Sufen is a strong, decent woman who'd go hungry herself before she'd see her son or Mum-in-law starve. The mother-in-law is a dead ringer for Scarlett O'Hara's 'Mammy' in the aforementioned GONE WITH THE WIND, by the way. She's a darling of a mother-in-law, patient, kind and good-humoured and she loves her daughter-in-law and little grandson to bits.

Sufen longs and prays for Zhongliang's return for eight long years. How the little trio survives the first half of the film, 'EIGHT WAR-TORN YEARS,' is a miracle. While the man of the family is off doing other things, they think of him constantly as they struggle for their very survival. It's so unfair. Stock footage of the war blends in seamlessly with the film's action to give us a really clear picture of what life was like for them during this traumatic period.

The second half of the film, 'DAWN,' sees Zhongliang, arguably the worst husband in the world since I don't know who, bigamously married to a glamorous rich woman with a wealthy businessman for her stepfather. Humph. It's well for some, isn't it? 

Zhongliang grows a dapper Clark-Gable-as-Rhett-Butler-type moustache and dresses sharply in the style of the time. He resembles a matinée idol of the day as he struts about the place laughing and joking. Note the way they treat their servants, by the way. It'd make your blood boil.

His high-maintenance wife looks like a super-glam Chinese Joan Crawford in her fabulous 'Forties gear and make-up.  She has the cutest shoes, too! Their whole set-up, the exact opposite to the impoverished Sufen's, looks just like one of those marvellous old Bette Davis Hollywood melodramas you watch on TV on lazy Saturday afternoons.

Zhongliang, by now a rich businessman himself thanks to his wife's connections, has all but forgotten the struggles and hardships of his old life, not to mention his first family.

He's become morally lax too, as we see when he starts an affair with his wife's bitchy, equally glamorous and stylish cousin. It's a dangerous move for a man whose missus is insanely jealous. By now, the audience is positively longing for a karmic come-uppance for the seemingly unfeeling jerk who's abandoned his first family for a life of ease and riches. Don't worry, folks. Karma's been keeping her eye on Mr. Two-Wives. There will be a highly satisfying show-down...

This superb Chinese-language blockbuster- there's no other way to describe it- is out on DVD on 20th February 2017 courtesy of the lovely peeps at the British Film Institute.

It'll appeal to anyone who loves their old black-and-white 'Forties melodramas, old war movies or just any big sprawling epic films with a terrific story like GONE WITH THE WIND and others like it. I'd heartily recommend it to fans of history and melodrama alike. You just can't go wrong with it.

BFI releases are available from all good home entertainment retailers or by mail order from the BFI Shop. Tel: 020 7815 1350 or online at www.bfi.org.uk/shop

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com










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