San Mao, the funny little boy with only three hairs on his head, first appeared around 1935 in Zhang Leping’s comic-strips. Back in Shanghai after the war, Zhang got a job in the “Da Gong Bao” newspaper and he decided that his San Mao would be a street orphan. The winter of 1946 was harsh and he would never forget the dead bodies of children he had seen in the streets in the early morning. He met many orphans to find out more about them. The new San Mao appeared in the “Da Gong Bao” in July 1947. It was very successful and in early 1948, Yang Hansheng and Cheng Baishen proposed to Kunlun to shoot a film. In their scenario San Mao, an orphan among many others suffered from cold and hunger in the streets of Shanghai. He tried to earn some money by collecting cigarettes butts, selling newspapers, pushing carts, but all his efforts remained vain. A couple of pickpockets taught him how to steal and he was good at that, but he did not like it and he escaped. One day, tired of being poor, he decided to sell himself. A rich lady took him home to adopt him as her son. He did his best to please her but after a while he got tired of her and he went back to his early life in the street with his former friends.
Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung
This movie adaptation of Zhang Leping’s comic-strip featuring Three-Hairs (San Mao) – still in print in book form today – preserves the stylised character-design and social satire of the original but uses real Shanghai location filming as much as possible. There’s a neat self-referential touch: Three-Hairs at one point sells a copy of “Da Gong Bao” on the street.
Three-Hairs starts out as the lowest of the low, sleeping in a night-soil cart, turns into an Oliver Twist character, desperately hungry and pressed into service as a pickpocket, and finally becomes a Boudu-like figure, taken in and ‘civilised’ by a bourgeois family – until he rebels and ends up back on the streets. Slapstick humour and class-caricatures dominate the action, all very faithful to Zhang Leping’s conception. The level of visual invention is high throughout: a flash of animation and other special effects are used to bring the boy’s fantasies to life, and studio-shot inserts are given an expressionist edge. The film was completed in August 1949, on the eve of the communist victory, and was immediately banned by Kuomintang censors. It was released at the end of that year with a newly added ending showing Three-Hairs and his friends dancing with the victory parade in the streets.
Cast and Credits
Sog.: dal fumetto San Mao di Zhang Leping. Scen.: Yang Hansheng, Cheng Baishen. F.: Zhu Jinming, Han Zhongliang. M.: Fu Zhenyi. Scgf.: Zhang Hancheng. Mus.: Wan Yunjie. Int.: Wang Longji (San Mao), Lin Zhen (la ricca signora), Guan Hongda (il boss), Huang Chen (la moglie del ladro), Mo Chou (la signora Wu), Cheng Mo (lo spazzino). Prod.: Kunlun. 35mm. D.: 90’. Bn.
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