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Love and Duty (1931 film)

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Love and Duty
Traditional Chinese戀愛與義務
Simplified Chinese恋爱与义务
Hanyu PinyinLiàn'ài yǔ yìwù
Directed byBu Wancang (Richard Poh)
Written byZhu Shilin (Chu Shek Lin)
Based onLove and Duty by S. Horose
Produced byLo Ming Yau (Luo Mingyou)
StarringRuan Lingyu (Lily Yuen)
Jin Yan (Raymond King)
CinematographyHuang Shaofen (Wong Siu Fan)
Release date
  • 1931 (1931)
Running time
151 minutes
LanguagesSilent film
Written Chinese and English intertitles
Love and Duty (1931) by Bu Wancang

Love and Duty is a 1931 Chinese silent film, directed by Bu Wancang and starring Ruan Lingyu and Jin Yan. Long considered lost, it was accidentally rediscovered in Uruguay in the 1990s, and was almost immediately hailed as one of the greatest Chinese silent films. Like many such films, it features both Chinese and English intertitles.

Interestingly,[1] Ruan Lingyu portrays two different characters in the film: the mother, Yang Nei Fang, and Huang Koon Ying, Nei Fang's daughter. For shared scenes, split screen technology is used to make both characters appear.[2]

Production history


The film is based on a novel, Love and Duty by a Polish expatriate, S. Horose, who had given the English version of her novel, La symphonie des ombres Chinouses, to Lo Ming Yau, the producer of the film.[3][4] The producer thought that this novel, with its sophisticated plot, should be adapted to be filmed.[4] However, he did not have enough resources.[4] After eight years and the appearance of the United Photoplay Service (Lianhua yingpian gongsi) in 1930, the film was finally made, which was also due to the film industry's growth.[4] This development made the production of new types of films, like Love and Duty, possible.[4] In the end, Love and Duty became one of the first films produced by the leftist United Photoplay Service.

The film was very popular in its day, in no small part due to the pairing of Ruan Lingyu, a darling of the Shanghai film industry, and Jin Yan, a Korean-born actor who was one of the major leading men in early Chinese cinema.



The plot starts in a town, Kiangwan, in Shanghai, inhabited by wealthy families, including those of the protagonists, Yang Nei Fang (played by Ruan Lingyu) and Li Tsu Yi (played by Jin Yan). Tsu Yi wakes up and prepares to go to school. As he slept in for half an hour, he meets the girl of his life at the entrance of his home whom he had previously missed because of different schedules. He falls in love at first sight with Nei Fang and starts to pursue her intensely, following her around. Nei Fang ignores him until he uses a piece of his shirt to bandage her wounded leg after she is hit by a car. After this, she finally falls in love with him. An image matching of a piece of Tsu Yi's shirt in Nei Fang's hand and Nei Fang's handkerchief, which he obtained by accident, in Tsu Yi's hand shows that they has exchanged objects that represent love. Soon after this, though, Nei Fang's father arranges a marriage for his daughter with a young man of good background, Huang Ta Jen. Though Nei Fang is reluctant, she submits to her father's authority. Years of dull married life and two children follow.

Time passes and Nei Fang and Tsu Yi meet again by accident. Each time that they meet subsequently, their relationship becomes increasingly intimate. Ta Jen is also close to another woman without Nei Fang knowing. Finally, Nei Fang leaves to live with Tsu Yi who refuses to allow her to bring her children. After her desertion, Ta Jen takes care of their children and severs his bond with the other woman.

While Nei Fang and Tsu Yi are happy for a while, it becomes difficult for him to find a job, due to rumors about their relationship. Tsu Yi then dies when overwork in a badly paid job exacerbates a longstanding undisclosed illness and Nei Fang takes care of their daughter, Ping Erh, alone, after her husband and her family reject her requests to return.

When Nei Fang becomes old, she meets her first two children, without revealing her identity as she is ashamed. In the end, Nei Fang decides to commit suicide to put Ping Erh in the hands of Ta Jen and liberate Ping Erh from Nei Fang's shame. Ta Jen is moved by Nei Fang's act and agrees to take care of Ping Erh. The film ends with the act of filial piety from the three children to the memory of Nei Fang.



Professor Yuan Qingfeng points out that the films that were produced between the years of 1905 and 1932 in China are considered to be old generation films. Then, Yuan also writes in his article that the focus points of these old films are on the traditional concepts about the relationship between a couple or the lives of family members. Love and Duty was made at the last days of the old films, so it followed suit. In addition, the scholar says that there is usually an immoral person in the romantic relationship in the film, and because of the lowly status of women in China at the time, female protagonists are usually chosen. As said in the article, for Love and Duty, the negative example is Yang Nei Fang, and in order to teach the audience, Nei Fang has to go through pain and death for her affair. However, Yuan's article says that even though Ta Jen also betrays the marriage, he, as a male character, can repent and become a brilliant example of father and partner in marriage. The article continues to state that the film is criticizing the concept of how romantic relationship can be decided without the presence of their parents by expressing that the love between Nei Fang and Tsu Yi is based on duty-forgetting needs and condemning Tsu Yi to death, for example. Furthermore, Yuan's article indicates that the characters' names have their own meanings, and the phrase that has the same pronunciation in Mandarin as Li Tsu Yi means turning back on the lessons of the ancestors, pointing at his affair with Nei Fang, for instance.[5]

Another scholar, Wang Dake, states that the scene of Nei Fang's father arranging marriage for Nei Fang is an expression of the superior authority of father in the thinking of old society. Moreover, Wang Dake says in his article that the film is authentic in arranging Tsu Yi and Nei Fang to be murdered by financing and other people's words instead of letting them have a happy life together. Finally, the same author composes that from the plot of the film, the audience can understand what the third word in the film's name means.[4] Kerlan mentioned that "the film, a silent production, is indeed an interesting blend of a Hollywood type’s silent feature and Chinese ethical and cultural values."[6] Kristine published in a later paper that the United Photoplay Service (Lianhua yingpian gongsi) strategically “staged,” even allegorized, Shanghai to signal its cosmopolitan ambitions while simultaneously alluding to Chinese filmmakers’ quest for a kind of “cinematic sovereignty” during the early Nanjing decade.[7]



For many years the film was believed to be lost, until a complete print was discovered in Uruguay in the 1990s.[3] The rediscovered print was shipped over to Taiwan in 1993 and is now housed at the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute. Since its rediscovery, the film has made its rounds in film festivals and Chinese cinema retrospectives around the world, one example being the Seattle International Film Festival in 2017.[8] In 2014, Love and Duty underwent a 2K digital restoration under Italy's L'Immagine Ritrovata, after which it was screened at the Shanghai Film Festival that same year.



Love and Duty has been remade twice, in 1938 and 1955. The first was from the wartime Shanghai "Orphan Island" studio Xinhua Film Company, again directed by Bu Wancang, with Jin Yan reprising his earlier role and Yuan Meiyun in the role originally created by Ruan Lingyu. The second remake was by the Hong Kong Shaw Brothers Studio. Both remakes were Mandarin dialect sound films.

See also



  1. ^ Modern Chinese Cultural Studies (7 November 2021). Love and Duty 戀愛與義務 (1931) with English subtitles UNRESTORED 未修復版. Retrieved 7 June 2024 – via YouTube.
  2. ^ Harris, Kristine (2013). "Ombres Chinoises: Split Screens and Parallel Lives in Love and Duty". In Rojas, Carlos; Chow, Eileen (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Chinese Cinemas. Oxford University Press. pp. 39–61. ISBN 978-0-19-976560-7.
  3. ^ a b Thomas Kampen (30 June 2004). "Film "Love and Duty"". Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Heidelberg. Archived from the original on 4 September 2007. Retrieved 9 April 2007.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Wang, Dake (June 2016). "从新修复的《恋爱与义务》重探 1930 年代 早期电影的多义性". J. Cent. South Univ. (Social Science). 22 (3): 190–195.
  5. ^ Yuan, Qingfeng (April 2014). "中国早期电影的道德图解与新电影的生长点 ———以联华影业公司 1931年出品的无声片 《恋爱与义务》为例". Journal of Zhejiang University of Media and Communications. 21 (2): 53–60.
  6. ^ Kerlan, Anne (November 2023). "A Chinese production with Hollywood taste". HALSHS. 01164763.
  7. ^ Harris, Kristine (2023). "Staging Shanghai in Love and Duty 戀愛與義務 (1923, 1931)". Journal of Chinese Film Studies. 3 (3): 411–447. doi:10.1515/jcfs-2023-0036.