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Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)

Not Rated | | Drama, Romance | 20 October 1919 (USA)
A frail waif, abused by her brutal boxer father in London's seedy Limehouse District, is befriended by a sensitive Chinese immigrant with tragic consequences.

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(adapted from a story by),
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Cast

Complete credited cast:
...
Lucy - The Girl (as Miss Lillian Gish)
...
The Yellow Man (as Mr. Richard Barthelmess)
...
Arthur Howard ...
His Manager
...
Evil Eye (as Edward Peil)
...
The Spying One
Norman Selby ...
A Prizefighter
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Storyline

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 <tony.fontana@spacebbs.com>

Plot Summary | Plot Synopsis

Genres:

Drama | Romance

Certificate:

Not Rated | See all certifications »

Parents Guide:

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Details

Country:

Release Date:

20 October 1919 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Broken Blossoms  »

Box Office

Budget:

$88,000 (estimated)
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Company Credits

Production Co:

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Technical Specs

Runtime:

Sound Mix:

Color:

(tinted screen)

Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?

Trivia

Cheng Huan is so saintly because D.W. Griffith knew there was a lot of Sinophobia in the US, and audiences would have trouble accepting a Chinese hero. In the original short story, Cheng Huan is just a guy who joined the Chinese merchant marines when he got into debt, grew tired of shipboard life and ended up in Limehouse, a multi-cultural port district in the poor section of London. He was never a Buddhist missionary or a pacifist, and fell just short of being a statutory rapist (albeit, he really loved Lucy); another part of rehabilitating his character was to change Lucy's age from 12 to 16. The audience is not supposed to think they had a sexual relationship, but if people played that out in their heads, it wasn't illegal (unless it was under US miscegenation laws, but Griffith kept the London setting). Anyway, it wasn't child-rape. In the original story, the only way in Cheng Huan he is morally superior to anyone else is his ahead-of-its-time compassion for Lucy. Griffith's personal copy of "Limehouse Nights", the book with the short story "The Chink and the Child"--on which this film is based--with all his screen writing marginal notes, still exists, in a rare book collection at the Lilly Library on the campus of Indiana University, along with a manuscript copy of the story by the author, with comments by Griffith and Lillian Gish. See more »

Goofs

The intertitles state, "The Buddha says, 'What thou dost not want others to do thee, do thou not to others.'" It was actually not the Buddha but Confucius' teaching. See more »

Quotes

Narrator: Battling discovers parental rights - A Chink after his kid! He'll learn him! Above all, Battling hates those not born in the same great country as himself.
See more »

Connections

Referenced in Boardwalk Empire: Anastasia (2010) See more »

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User Reviews

 
Feminism, Masculism, Racism, All Dealt With In 'Blossoms'
2 April 2000 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

Beyond the weepy, sappy, tear-jerking qualities associated with this Griffith feature, it's actually a landmark film in the annals of feminist films. In a time when women were either out on the street turning tricks, or in the home raising children, this film looks at Lucy Burrows (Miss Gish) who seems to be caught in the middle. Of both the above characteristics of period women, and literally caught between an abusive parental figure, and a caring oriental shop keeper. The question is posed...should she sustain the abuse and stay in the home, or be a social reject by shacking up with this "lowly chinaman"? As in all of Griffith's films, the women are either virtuous or fallen, and the men are either lusting brutes, or effeminate sensitive males.

Many may look aghast at the legendary Barthelmess playing the chinaman, Cheng Huan, or any one of a number of races played by white actors. If not anything else, Blossoms is a great example of stereotypes that existed in the early years of cinema. Griffith successfully deals with the race issues, (even with the use of white actors in the various race roles), extreme masculinity issues, and the above stated femininity issues bluntly, and straight to the point. In a culture dominated by the MASTER NARRATIVE of patriarchal while heterosexual males (well, even still today), D.W. tries his best to put it into perspective. And does a pretty good job of it.


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