The Spring River Flows East
|The Spring River Flows East|
Poster for the first part of the film: Eight War-Torn Years
|Mandarin||Yī jiāng chūn shuǐ xiàng dōng liú|
|Music by||Zhang Zengfan|
The Spring River Flows East, also translated as The Tears of Yangtze, is a 1947 epic Chinese film written and directed by Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli and produced by the Kunlun Film Company. It is considered one of the most influential and extraordinary Chinese films ever made, and China's equivalent of the Gone with the Wind. The Hong Kong Film Awards ranked it in its list of greatest Chinese-language films ever made at number 27. It ran continuously in theatres for three months, and attracted 712,874 viewers during the period, setting a Chinese record. The film features two of the biggest stars of the time: Bai Yang and Shangguan Yunzhu.
The film is over three hours long and consists of two parts, Eight War-Torn Years (八年離亂) and The Dawn (天亮前后), released one after the other the same year. It details the trials and tribulations of a family around the Second Sino-Japanese War, in pre-war, wartime and post-war China. The first part of the film, Eight War-Torn Years details the early life and marriage of a young working-class couple, Sufen (Bai Yang), and Zhang Zhongliang (Tao Jin) and the strain produced when the husband is forced to flee to Chungking while leaving his family in Shanghai during the war. The second part of the film details Zhang Zhongliang's return to Shanghai, now married into a wealthy bourgeois family for whom Sufen is forced to work as a maid.
The title derives from a poem composed by the last ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty, Li Yu (936/7 - 978). The poem, To the tune of ‘the Beauty Yu’ ("Beauty Yu" is the metaphoric name for Papaver rhoeas) was written shortly after the loss of his kingdom to the Song Dynasty:
|“||How much sorrow can one man have to bear?
As much as a river of spring water flowing east.
- Bai Yang - Sufen
- Tao Jin - Zhang Zhongliang
- Shu Xiuwen - Wang Lizhen
- Shangguan Yunzhu - He Wenyuan
- Wu Yin - Zhang Zhongliang's mother
Part One: The Eight War-Torn Years
Part One is about 100 minutes in length.
The film is set in Shanghai and begins shortly after the Mukden Incident of 1931. Sufen (Bai Yang) works in a textile factory; Zhang Zhongliang (Tao Jin) gives evening classes to the workers. During a National Day (October 10) celebration at the factory, Zhang successfully urges the workers to donate to the Northeastern Volunteer Army who are fighting the Japanese invaders in northeast China. He is reprimanded by the factory's Manager Wen for going against the Japanese.
Sufen and Zhongliang get married and before long, they have an infant son, whom they named Kangsheng ("to resist and to live on"). The Japanese invasion now reaches Shanghai. Manager Wen sends his cousin-in-law, Wang Lizhen (Shu Xiuwen), to Hankou, Inner China to avoid the war. Meanwhile, Zhongliang joins the Resistance inland as a medic and parts with his mother (Wu Yin), Sufen and their baby, who stay on in Shanghai. In 1938, Sufen goes down to the provinces with her mother to join up with Zhongliang's father and younger brother Zhongmin. Because the Japanese are arresting the intelligentsia, Zhongmin, a village schoolteacher, runs away to join the guerrillas in the mountains with three of his friends.
The people live a life of suffering under the Japanese. Zhongliang is captured as a coolie but escapes. Zhongliang's father is hanged by the Japanese for trying to work a compromise concerning their grain levy. The guerrillas successfully exterminate the Japanese soldiers in the village, and bring the villagers to the mountains where their base is. However, Sufen and her mother-in-law are sent back to Shanghai.
Zhongliang escapes to Chungking, which is under the control of the Chinese Nationalist government, where he cannot find a job. Destitute, he looks for old acquaintance Wang Lizhen. Lizhen gives him a place to stay at her house and finds him a job at her godfather's company. However, he soon discovers that, like almost everyone else in his office, he has practically nothing to do. He degenerates into a loafer, and feels oppressed by the carefree, bourgeois attitudes around him. He finally succumbs to the charms of the liberal-minded Wang Lizhen.
Part Two: The Dawn
Part Two is about 92 minutes in length.
The film continues the story of Zhang Zhongliang in Chungking. After his liaison with Wang Lizhen, he is promoted to be private secretary of Wang's godfather Pang Haogong, and becomes a shrewd entrepreneur. Sufen, on the other hand, continues working in the refugee camp. Their son has grown up to be a young boy. The Japanese decides to dismantle the refugee camp for military purposes, and order an evacuation of all refugees, and the people live through hard times on rice rationing. The homeless refugees are forced to stay in a freezing stream as punishment for a few escapees.
Zhongliang and Wang Lizhen get married. The Japanese finally surrender in August 1945. Zhongliang flies back with Pang to Shanghai while Lizhen stays reluctantly in Chungking. In Shanghai, the Nationalists round up people associated with the Japanese, including Manager Wen, and lock them in jail. He Wenyan (Shangguan Yunzhu), Wen's wife, plays host to Zhongliang. Wenyan transfers Wen's money to her name, and ends up as Zhongliang's secret mistress.
Postwar conditions are tough. Sufen cannot afford to stay at her rented shack, and she cannot contact her husband. She offers her services as a servant under He Wenyan. Meanwhile, Wang Lizhen arrives in Shanghai. Kangsheng, Zhongliang's son, becomes a newspaper boy.
He Wenyan throws a cocktail party on National Day. While carrying in a tray with drinks for the guests in the hall, Sufen chances on Zhongliang, who is about to dance a tango with his new wife. She overturns the tray in shock, drawing attention from all the guests, and under pressure from Wang Lizhen, confesses to everyone that Zhongliang is her husband. There is an uproar, and Sufen runs off, while Lizhen faints in her room upstairs. Once awake, Lizhen roars for revenge while Wenyan privately gloats over her misfortune.
Suzhen goes back after a night in the streets due to the midnight curfew, and reads a letter from Zhongmin, who has now married his sweetheart and is teaching in the countryside. Suzhen confides in her mother-in-law that Zhongliang is back and has married another woman. They go to confront Zhongliang at Wenyan's mansion.
Lizhen starts a ruckus and insists that Zhongliang divorce Sufen. Shamed and totally disillusioned, Sufen runs out of the house with her son and goes to a quay, where she asks her son to buy her something to eat. When he comes back, she has drowned herself in the Huangpu River.
During the Hundred Flowers Campaign, The Spring River Flows East was re-released China-wide in November 1956 and was again extremely popular. It was reported that people walked for miles in inclement weather to watch the film, and many were moved to tears. It provided a sharp contrast to the unpopular worker/peasant/soldier films made in the Communist era.
The film was remade in 2005 as a television adaptation starring Hu Jun, Anita Yuen, Carina Lau, and Chen Daoming, but the newer version is translated into English as The River Flows Eastwards. An operatic adaptation by Hao Weiya under the title Yi Jiang Chunshui, with libretto by Luo Zhou and Yu Jiang, was premiered at the Shanghai Grand Theater in October 2014.
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