The American missionary Megan Davis arrives in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War to marry the missionary Dr. Robert Strife. However, Robert postpones their wedding to rescue some orphans in an orphanage in Chapei section that is burning in the middle of a battlefield. While returning to Shanghai with the children, they are separated in the crowd, Megan is hit in the head and knocked out, but is saved by General Yen and brought by train to his palace. As the days go by, the General's mistress Mah-Li becomes close to Megan and when she is accused of betrayal for giving classified information to the enemies, Megan asks for her life. The cruel General Yen falls in love for the naive and pure Megan and accepts her request to spare the life of Mah-Li against the will of his financial advisor Jones. Meanwhile Megan feels attracted by the powerful and gentle General Yen, but resists to his flirtation. When Mah-Li betrays General Yen and destroys his empire, Megan realizes that to be able ... Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Bitter Tea is one of my favourite Capra films, the earliest one I would call that "much over-worked phrase", a classic. I don't know if the original story was much different, but even being pre-Code this film would be shot much differently nowadays - unfortunately, of course! It appears to be just as hung up about love between the races as any other Golden Age movie was, except the tale's conclusion is more open to interpretation and franker in its portrayal. But even that was spoiled by Walter Connolly's Jerry Springer type moral ramblings at the end as solace for any outraged whites.
It's a murky, atmospheric, lustrous (in the romantic arc-light), absorbing 83 minute journey through a rather horrible world, populated by semi human beings - naturally Western wars are so much more civilised affairs. Throughout Stanwyck does her best and looks her best too, no wonder Gen Yen fell for her! I hope modern Scandanavians don't feel too humiliated by Nils Asther playing a Chinaman though (& v.v.) As a non practising Christian I didn't take offence at the criticism levelled at Christianity's manifold moral ambiguities - but enough of all that!
A wonderful film to sink into every few years not only for the story but also the gleaming photography, the visual composition of the scene near the end where Yen is brewing the tea of the title is so achingly beautiful that it brings the tears to my eyes as I think about it! But remember it was made in 1932 so if you don't like shiny charming creakers it's probably not your cup of tea.
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