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Andy De Emmony
With Ruan Lingyu and Li Li-li in the one film - how can you go wrong?
Small Toys tells the story of a gifted artisan toy maker, played by Ruan Lingyu, who crafts small toys from clay and bamboo that her husband then sells in a nearby town. Ye's daughter, after the story moves forward ten years to 1931, is played by Li Lili, another famous actress in both silent and sound films. It is perhaps not the best film of either of these great Chinese actresses, but like many films from the period, are important for historical reasons as well as for mere entertainment value.
SPOILERS AHEAD Many catastrophes then strike one after the other: Ye's husband dies and her little son disappears, warlords destroy the village, cheap modern toys begin to outsell the handmade works Ye and her equally gifted daughter create. The family move then to the outskirts of Shanghai and the story moves forward ten years. In 1932, the Japanese attack Shanghai and bring further disaster to the family. Finally mistaking New Year firecrackers for bombs, Ye, driven to madness, urges those around her to take up arms against the imaginary enemies. SPOILERS END
This movie was made after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and these events play a pivotal role in the action as well as the spirit of the film, especially its frequent and undisguised nationalistic appeals, including one directly to the audience! As for the title, apart from indicating the nature of the main character's business, as the plot moves forward, it seems to suggest that the characters themselves are mere toys in the hands of Fate.
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