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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>
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 »
While Lucy is looking into the window of Cheng Huan's shop, director D.W. Griffith, in his shirtsleeves and wearing a vest, can briefly but very clearly be seen reflected in the window, briskly walking into the shot and sitting down in a chair beside the camera. This occurs in the shot immediately following the intertitle "The girl with the tear-aged face." See more »
It is rather interesting to compare the silent D.W. Griffith BROKEN BLOSSOMS with its inspiration: the 1916 Thomas Burke short story The Chink And The Child, published in Limehouse Nights (Grant Richards Limited, London). Griffith has deliberately left out, added and changed parts of the story in his film. When Burke's collection of Limehouse stories was published it was feared that the book would be barred by the censor. Recently books by Vere Stacpoole (The Blue Lagoon) and D.H. Lawrence (The Rainbow) has been suppressed, as 'frankness in fiction was frowned upon...' (John Gawsworth - Foreword to: The Best Stories of Thomas Burke, Phoenix House, London, 1950). There were enough worrying themes in the story: its sadism, the utterly impossible interracial love affair and the girl's youth. In Burke's story Lucy is found in an opium joint, where a prostitute has taken her to make a profit out of the virgin. Cheng rescues the 'alabaster Cockney child' - she is only twelve - to bring her '...love and death.' Burke's poetic prose is not always graphic: «He took her hand and kissed it; repeated the kiss upon her cheek and lip and little bosom, twining his fingers in her hair. Docilely, and echoing the smile of his lemon lips in a way that thrilled him almost to laughter, she returned his kisses impetuously, gladly. ... And she was his; her sweet self and her prattle, and her birdlike ways were all his own. Oh, beautifully they loved. ...» Nevertheless elsewhere Burke clarifies the nature of their relation as « It may be that he forgot that he was in London and not in Tuan-tsen. It may be that he did not care. Of that nothing can be told. All that is known is that his love was a pure and holy thing.» Griffith's additions vary from Lucy's artificial smile to Cheng's religious mission. The Christian missionary is also Griffith's invention. He has a dig at Western Christian morality sending missionaries around the world while there's still enough to be done in Battling Burrows's own home town. Near the end Cheng kills Battling Burrows with a handgun as in any American western. In Burke's London Limehouse nights a snake deals with Battling Burrows. Was such a venomous revenge not personal enough to Griffith's American taste?
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