Wanjia Denghuo was produced by Kunlun, established in Shanghai by Xia Yunhu and his communist friends after they reopened the second studio of Lianhua where they had worked in the 1930s. The scenario, written by Yang Hansheng and Shen Fu, highlights the desperate situation of many Shanghai people during the last years of the civil war, by choosing one average family, among many others, who could not live decently in a society rotten with corruption, and where little hope was left to those who worked hard without being rewarded. The film was delayed several times by the Kuomintang censorship.
Shen Fu (1905-1994) had worked at Lianhua as director and scenarist on famous films like Langshan dixue ji (Blood on Wolf-Mountain, Fei Mu, 1936), starring Lan Ping before she married Mao, and for that, he was later prosecuted by her. After the war, he joined Kunlun and directed Wanjia Denghuo and Xiwang zai renjian (Hope in the World), both interpreted by Shangguan Yunzhu and Lan Ma.
Shangguan Yunzhu (1920-1968) had never studied acting but she was so talented that she could play any type of character with equal success: the high society lady in Yijiang chunshui xiang dong liu (Spring River Flows East, Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli, 1947); the demi-mondaine in Taitai wansui(Long Live the Wife, Sang Hu, 1947); the middle-class wife in Wanjia Denghuo; the old actress in Wutai Jiemei (Stage Sisters, Xie Jin, 1965) or the peasant in Kumu feng chun (Spring Comes to the Withered Tree, Zheng Junli 1961). Persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, she committed suicide in 1968.
Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung
Alongside Wenhua, The Peak Film Industries Corp (aka Kunlun) energised Shanghai film culture in the late 40s/early 50s with a string of social-realist melodramas which combined Borzage-like pictures of romantic tribulations with covert political activism. Several Peak projects had been vetoed by Kuomintang censors when the company’s head writer Yang Hansheng and writer-director Shen Fu, both leftist veterans of 30s cinema, came up with Wanjia Denghuo. Shot in the studio but with vivid documentary inserts of life on Shanghai’s streets, the film focuses on the plight of the emerging middle class. As the title suggests, the Hu family is seen as representative of thousands of others.
It starts with positive images – domestic bliss, a well-run company, happy good-time girls on the make – but soon hints at dark shadows: hyper-inflation strains the household budget, the press reports rumours of business chicanery, and a letter brings news of starvation in the countryside. By the time that a large crowd of relatives from the home village arrives to stay in the cash-strapped Hu household, a tide of familial and financial disasters is let loose: unemployment, duplicity, rage and miscarriage beset Hu Zhiqing (Lan Ma, excellent) and those around him. The ending points up an obvious political moral (solidarity is the answer!), but the lively mise en scène maintains a certain dramatic tension – and delivers a rather fine montage of delirium in the closing reel.
Cast and Credits
Shen Fu. F.: Zhu Jinming. M.: Wu Tingfang, Fu Zhengyi. Mus.: Wang Yunjie. Int.: Shangguan Yunzhu (Lan Youlan), Lan Ma (Hu Zhiqing), Wu Ying (la madre di Hu). Qi Heng (Qian Jianzhu), Gao Zheng (Xiao Zhao), Li Huanqing (Ah Zhen). Prod.: Kunlun. DCP. D.: 115’. Bn.
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