Ruan Ling-yu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Open, general discussion of silent films, personalities and history.
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Keatonesque
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Ruan Ling-yu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Unread post by Keatonesque » Thu May 10, 2018 3:06 pm

I've recently been immersing in the filmography of legendary Chinese silent actress Ruan Ling-yu (1910-1935) and Chinese silent film, which is a real treasure trove of discoveries on par (in my opinion) with Japanese silent cinema. Unfortunately, virtually all the major films of Chinese silent cinema and the films of Ruan Ling-yu have not seen releases with the exception of some via Cinema Epoch (albeit very often in poor quality) and BFI's underwhelming non-HD transfer of The Goddess last year. From what I understand, the China Film Archive is apparently difficult to work with regarding restorations and releases, but perhaps this will change someday, and many of these films will be blessed with BD releases (a Criterion boxset of all of Ruan Ling-yu's films, please!). The CFA is notoriously known for botching restorations (most notable with the sound on Spring in a Small Town), so underwhelming releases may be the norm for another generation unless something radically changes with the CFA. Sadly, if Ruan Ling-yu have lived just another year or so, she would've likely seamlessly transitioned into sound pictures at a crucial time of nationalistic/progressive film-making in China. These are some of her silents I found to be excellent for what they are and that I would most recommend. She may not be exceptional as an actress to all or even most, but I personally find her screen presence to be incredible and hauntingly naturalistic.

1. Tao hua qi xue ji/The Peach Girl (1931) / SFSFF 2000
2. Yi jian mei/A Spray of Plum Blossoms (1931) / SFSFF 2010
3. Lian ai yu yi wu/Love and Duty (1931) / SIFF 2017
4. Xiao Wanyi/Little Toys (1933) / SFSFF 2012
5. Shennü/The Goddess (1934) / SFSFF 2004
6. Xīn nǚ xìng/New Women (1935)
7. Guó fēng/National Customs (1935)

Love and Duty (1931) recently underwent a 2K restoration via Ritrovata in 2014 and premiered at Seattle's 2017 International Film Festival (SIFF). To my knowledge, this is one of the first (if not first) films of the Chinese Silent Era to receive this treatment, and certainly the first of any of Ruan Ling-yu's films. Did anyone get a chance to see it? Here's a preview that was posted in anticipation of its screening a year ago: https://www.siff.net/festival/love-and-duty

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Last edited by Keatonesque on Sun May 13, 2018 10:32 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Keatonesque
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Re: Ruan Lingyu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Unread post by Keatonesque » Thu May 10, 2018 3:16 pm

Here is an outstanding article on one the crown jewels of Chinese Silent Cinema, director Sun Yu (1900-1990), who directed two of the most notable stars of this first golden age of Chinese Cinema, Li Lili and Ruan Ling-yu: http://www.gildasattic.com/sunyu.html

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Keatonesque
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Re: Ruan Ling-yu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Unread post by Keatonesque » Fri May 11, 2018 3:18 pm

This trailer for the 2014 2K restoration of Love and Duty gives a glimpse of the many faces of Ruan Ling-yu over the course of a film, the various subtleties and expressionism, qualities one might define as an intense fragility, which made her such a standout actress in her time, similar to Anna May Wong's expressionism when she was given opportunities, which, unfortunately for her, were all too few being in Hollywood with the sole silent exception of Picadilly. Flicker Alley, get on this!

Last edited by Keatonesque on Sat Sep 22, 2018 5:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Keatonesque
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Re: Ruan Ling-yu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Unread post by Keatonesque » Sat May 12, 2018 1:24 pm

Regarding the woeful reputation of the China Film Archive concerning preservation, restoration, and release of silent films, the following was noted in review of the CFA's mostly botched release of The Goddess last year that I think worth mentioning:
My sense is that the BFI is entirely beholden to what the China Film Archive provides them. I guess they feel that getting these films [Chinese silents] more widely seen is more important than holding out, likely indefinitely, for better versions [prints]. There's a reason why no label in, say, the U.S. seems interested in picking these [silent] CFA titles up. Indeed, in some cases, the now out-of-print Cinema Epoch DVDs, which were just bootlegs of mainland releases with proper English subtitles and some unfortunate contrast boosting, are more watchable than the new versions released [via the CFA]. Or listenable, rather: the digital distortion present throughout the BFI's [recent DVD release of] Spring in a Small Town, an artifact of the CFA's botched restoration, is one of the worst things ever done to a great film.
Luckily, it seems Ritrovata miraculously did a marvelous job with the 2K restoration of Love and Duty. Does anyone here have any experience with the CFA or any insider knowledge about how it operates and why its restoration work is so poor?

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Keatonesque
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Re: Ruan Ling-yu and Chinese Silent Cinema (1922–1935)

Unread post by Keatonesque » Sat Sep 22, 2018 5:21 pm

Any idea if Flicker Alley could be able to get their hands on some Chinese silents with Ruan Ling-yu?

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