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Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl
Broken Blossoms is an American silent film from director D. W. Griffith. This melodrama tells the love story of an abused English woman and a Chinese Buddhist in a time when London was a brutal and harsh place to live.
Decades Project: 1/1 of the 10's
Wow. Ouch. Wowch.
One of the chief problems with silent films for me is their ability to connect on an emotional level, and boy does Broken Blossoms ever connect. Its story about an innocent young girl and a lonely Chinese immigrant oppressed and forgotten by the world around them is something which hits more than a few resonant notes with anyone who's ever felt like an outsider. Neither character has a place in society, but when they meet a space is magically opened up where they not only coexist as a pair but where they can finally exist as individuals.
You might expect a film adaptation of a story called The Chink and the Child made by Birth of a Nation director D.W. Griffith to be, well, not exactly racially sensitive. And, true, the character of Cheng Huan is played by westerner Richard Barthelmess, who squints his eyes to achieve an oriental look. But, if anything, Broken Blossoms is about tolerance, and in particular racial tolerance, it being the story of two ethnically different star-crossed lovers, whose flowering affections are cruelly thwarted by a racist brute.
Lillian Gish is phenomenal. Her character, Lucy, may never be anything more than a victim in the story, but Gish, with her tremulous, haunted fragility, is magnetic. There is one particular scene where Lucy…
Except for the creepy pedophilic overtones and casual racism, this is a straightforward melodrama. It's neither great nor terrible.
Poor, sad little girl. I am not sure I have ever seen terror portrayed so convincingly as the closet scene. And the way she acts with her eyes and uses her fingers to force a smile - brilliant.
I think this Lillian Gish might have a future in the flickers.
As much a reaction to BIRTH as INTOLERANCE, with a racially flipped climax that suggests the average white woman has more to fear from a drunken, single-minded relative than a minority. Smaller in scale than Griffith's other features to that point, but no less intricate in its technical and emotional mastery. Maybe even my favorite of his features so far.
D.W. Griffith's Broken Blossoms is a film I really respect, even though I found it very boring for the first half hour. After that it really started to pick up pace, and the tension had me on edge for the second half of the film.
I haven't seen The Birth of a Nation yet, but I've read all about its infamous racist nature. I was therefore very surprised to see how well this film tackled that issue, seeing it was released just four years later. Sure, you have the odd blackface, and our main protagonist is called "The Yellow Man" and a "Chink" throughout the film, and is played by an American with slightly closed eyes, but he's still the…
If I had only seen this, I would've thought that D.W. Griffith was a little racist, to be sure, but had his heart in the right place. Having seen A Birth of a Nation prior, however, makes me think differently.
Broken Blossoms or The Yellow Man and the Girl (1919)
Deeply affecting, wonderfully acted, the scene in the closet has been mentioned many times in the history of cinema for a reason, and it's clearly a seminal image for the horror cinema that would take over the decade of the 1930's, with its wide eyes and shrieks of terror, something that permeates even today's horror cinema. Besides that, and race relations aside, this is a positive film whose only fault is the fact that it doesn't use Asian actors for the Asian roles, but here we have a bit of everything: some romance, some poverty drama, a boxing match, a chase, a gunfight, and a bunch of unexpected deaths. Impressive stuff from a director that I've had a hard time understanding and liking.
Brutal and depressing by today's standards but for 1919... wow.
"classic" - paul dano
To be honest, the low rating I'm giving doesn't come down to the quality necessarily but the content. I've watched Griffith's films before (Birth of a Nation, for a class analyzing race in films) and so I was expecting the film to be racist to an extent.
However, going into the film not knowing at all what it was going to be about - instantly the first scene opens with China. The entire film focuses on a gentle Chinese man named Cheng Huan (called the "sensitive Yellow Man", and of course being a white man in yellowface) who leaves China to try to teach Westerners about the ways of Buddha. He falls into despair and he falls in love with…
Though the premise is intriguing, I found the film overall to be very distressing. How this is hailed as a "classic" I will never understand.
Freed up from the juggernaut raging of his better known epics of a few years earlier, this gives Griffith a chance to be genuinely lyrical at times, with his static camera, intelligent cross-cutting and careful close ups as inspired and awash in a sometimes overbearing emotional charge as ever. It's the atypically progressive story of a chance romantic encounter between Lillian Gish's usual fragile waif and an opium-addled but kind Chinese immigrant portrayed in yellowface by Richard Barthelmess. (Griffith is obviously more impressed with the latter performance than we are; he lingers sometimes uncomfortably on virtually robotic moments from the actor.) The story isn't any great shakes -- heavily reliant on the violence of the girl's father as a plot…
From the director of controversial and what most would regard, including myself, one of the most racist films "Birth of a nation" comes this incredibly well made romance between a Chinese man and english woman. Although on balance the Chinese male character is played by a Caucasian guy, who squints his eyes to look Chinese, this story of forbidden love is really well made. The hardship in this film is felt by the audience as we follow this tragic story. I loved this film, the cinematography and direction is awesome and Lillian Gish Looks beautiful in pretty much every shot. Some of the language used is devine and over all i would recommend watching this film, really sad, but captivating and a pleasure to watch.
It's hard to review work which was seminal in the creation of American cinema, because what can you say about it that hasn't already been said in the last hundred years?
Put simply, if you look past some problematic language and orientalism (both of which were very much products of their time) you will find a wholly positive and surprisingly progressive portrayal of an Asian protagonist, something for which this film should be lauded.
The story is one of love and loss, with a wonderful score and some typically excellent cinematography from Griffith, Broken Blossoms is a fascinating look at both the dawn of Hollywood and the changing opinions of the time in post-war America.
All the films from all the editions, including those subsequently removed, presently totalling 1177. An easy way of seeing how…