This is a (for China) very early sound movie, which means it's practically a silent: people speak without us hearing it, often lengthy inter-titles (in Chinese only, not with added English as was usual in 1929). The soundtrack is mostly music (attributed to the famous composer Nie Er who died at 23), some sound effects - the birds, the ship's steam horn - and, last but not least, the song which gives the movie its title ("The fishermen's song") which is performed three times, giving the movie a special structure.
The story is about a fisherman's family living near to Shanghai. In the beginning, twin babies are born, a boy and a girl. Their growing-up is briefly sketched, and their friendship with "young master", a boy from rich family about their age. While the fishing business goes from bad to worse, he travels abroad to study ship-building, and later returns to have a rather large, modern trawler built. This of course reduces the chances of the traditional fishermen even more, so the boy and the girl go to Shanghai looking for a job. These scenes are really intensive - the queues forming outside the personnel office (men and women separate), the attempts to get a better place in the queue, the final disappointment when all vacancies are filled.
Boy and girl look for other occupation, which involves street theater and singing, but the boy (played by the famous comedian Han Langen, who does very bitter comedy here) is arrested and appears in court. These scenes are very brief, and by ruptures in the music I suppose that quite some footage was cut out (maybe for bad quality - some of the remaining footage is also hardly viewable). Lucky turn: he is acquitted, and sister and brother go to shop some good food for their mother.
Well, I better not give away all the further tribulations of the story here - quite pathetic and/or heartbreaking in my eyes.
This was the first Chinese movie to win a prize at a foreign festival, in Moscow. They must have seen a more complete version back then - the one I have (from the 120-piece Retrospective collection) feels like it hasn't aged so well physically. But still, to watch it is an interesting experience in movie archeology...
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