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Cheng Huan is a missionary whose goal is to bring the teachings of peace by Buddha to the civilized Anglo-Saxons. Upon landing in England, he is quickly disillusioned by the intolerance and apathy of the country. He becomes a storekeeper of a small shop. Out his window, he sees the young Lucy Burrows. She is regularly beaten by her prizefighter father, underfed and wears ragged clothes. Even in this deplorable condition, Cheng can see that she is a priceless beauty and he falls in love with her from afar. On the day that she passes out in front of his store, he takes her in and cares for her. With nothing but love in his heart, he dresses her in silks and provides food for her. Still weak, she stays in his shop that night and all that Cheng does is watch over her. The peace and happiness that he sees last only until Battling Burrows finds out that his daughter is with a foreigner. Written by
Tony Fontana <email@example.com>
With some excellent acting performances and an interesting, memorable story, "Broken Blossoms" is one of the better pictures of the late 1910s, and it has held up rather well despite a couple of obvious signs of age. It would be hard to top Lillian Gish's performance as Lucy in any era, and Richard Barthelmess turns in a purposefully restrained and surprisingly effective performance in a role that was far from easy.
The story ties together several weighty themes, and most of them are still pertinent. This is the kind of movie that is sometimes considered to be dated, yet in terms of the main conflicts and struggles that the characters face, there are probably fewer differences between 1919 and 2004 than many might wish there to be. With material like this, it is also easy to allow it to become labored or heavy-handed. As it is, the tone is somber and austere throughout, yet most of the time this is in a thoughtful way.
Since Griffith's work is still so well-known and meets with such widely varying responses, it can sometimes be hard to evaluate his movies individually, without reference to the rest of his filmography. The story here is unusual enough in itself, with the different races and religions of the characters and the implied images represented by each of them. Each character is rather quickly defined as good or bad - a common state of affairs in Griffith movies - and as a result the story is told in a way that reflects that presumption, for better or for worse.
What is hard to deny is that the story and characters will stick with you afterwards. The impression that it leaves is not an entirely happy one, but the movie successfully evokes the humanity of all involved, which is a not unworthy goal and a not insignificant achievement.
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