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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 <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Personally the best ever silent movie, completed in 1983
This has been one of my all-time favourite films since I taped it off UK Channel 4 1st October 1988 on its second showing, one to savour and revel in every few years. There really is no choice: the only version worth seeing is this one, the Brownlow & Gill UK remaster with Louis F. Gottchalk's themes lushly orchestrated by David Cullen and Carl Davis and the Thames Silents Orchestra. From a good silent film Broken Blossoms is beautifully transformed into a work of Art, the merger of the music and Billy Bitzer's visuals can be so striking. And the intelligent tinting was gorgeous too. Over the years I've even played it just for the music sometimes!
The story? Depressed Chinese ex-missionary in London falls under the spell of listless poverty-stricken beautiful white 15 yo daughter of violent boxer. The crafty and base whites think the worst, but we know that the yellow man's love remained pure - even his worst foe says this ... I know that most people today would hoot at the acting abilities displayed: Lillian Gish's pathetic submissiveness, Donald Crisp's over the top savage expressions and Richard Barthelmess's determinedly serious inscrutability, but appreciation of silent melodramas as a genre is really required rather than simply selecting just one film to watch, such as this. And then again some people have to get over a white man playing a Chinese man whilst simultaneously approving of miscegenation in these much more enlightened times! Would these same people be bothered if a Chinese played a white man? Along with Birth of a Nation and Intolerance, this was Griffiths' best work, pinnacles of the cinema.
Utterly spellbinding poetic stuff for the enlightened, dreadful if your favourites are cgi-riddled and no older than 6 months. And don't expect a remotely happy ending! The beauty that all the world missed smote him to the heart (paraphrase).
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