Actress Ruan LingYu 阮玲玉 was one of the main star of Shanghai cinema in the 1930s. Shanghailander.net’s series of blog posts about her 1931 movie “Love and duty” sparked interest in the readers. One of them pointed me to the 1991 Stanley Kwan Hong Kong movie “Center Stage” or 阮玲玉 (Ruan Lingyu) in Chinese.
Center Stage is focused on the life of actress Rang Lingyu, from the time she became an actress for the Lian Hua studio in 1930.
Stanley Kwan Hong Kong movie mixes biopic like scenes with cuts from the two remaining original movies (The Godess 1934 and New women 1935). It also adds interviews from people who actually knew Ruan Lingyu, and of some of the movie cast. Meggie Cheung is fantastic at interpreting Ruan Lingyu sensibility.
One of stunning feature of the movie is that various actors speak different Chinese dialects to each other. Ruan Lingyu, as many people of the Lian Hua studio speak cantonese. Other characters speak mandarin or Shanghai dialect, but they all seem to understand each other somehow.
A number of surviving pictures have been studied used to recreate the original scenes. Enormous work has been done recreate the architecture, art, fabrics and objects of the time. The art deco mansion occupied by the Lian Hua studio feels like a Shanghai villa, just like the dance club is clearly inspired by Shanghai’s paramount.
Although not so well known in the West, the movie was well received by critics, with Maggie Chueng earning a Silver price for acting in Berlin festival in 1992. It is definitely a must see for Old Shanghai lovers. Too bad “Love and Duty” was only found and restored after “Center Stage” was made, that would have been a great match.
The 1931 movie “Love and Duty” （恋爱与义务）was a great success in 1930s Shanghai. It was the first big movie with actress Ruang Linguy who would become the superstar of Shanghai cinema, until her suicide in 1935. I have written several posts about some of the location where the movie was made in Shanghai (see post “Love and Duty” for more details). This post is showing the video that was made of the location search.
You will find more information about Ruan Lingyu, the movie “Love and Duty” and film locations in posts “Love and Duty” Part 1 and 2.
This post is the second one focused on the 1931 Ruan Lingyu movie, Love and Duty (恋爱与义务) “Love and Duty (part 1)” was focused on showing modernity and westernisation in 1930s Shanghai through some scenes of the movie. This part is focused on searching for actual film locations in today’s Shanghai.
The first part of the movie is taking place in a upper class neighborhood called “Kiangwan”. Jiangwan (today spelling of Kiangwan) was then a far suburb of Shanghai, chosen by the nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek to create a new city center away from the foreign concessions (See post “Ordinary metropolis” for more details). This was supposed to be the incarnation of modern upper class neighborhood in Shanghai. The movie “Love and Duty” was released in 1931. At that time, the plan for Jiangwan was already made, but the first building, the Jiangwan civic center, was still under construction, finished in 1`932. To illustrate this modernity and high level, the director used the streets of the French Concession as film location.
The first minutes of the movie shows view of the surroundings. Despite the changes, the above picture is the same as the right and below picture. The house is located on Route Delastre (today TaiYuan lu) and Route Remy (Today Yongkang lu). Design and marking on the front wall is very unique.
Even more unique are the arcs of this residence in the Yongkang road, shown a few minutes later. Although the structure of the buildings has been altered an little, it is easy to recognise, on former Route Rémy (today Yong Kang Lu). This location is a few meters from the above one on Taiyuan Lu.
Above corner street corner is of Yongkang lu and Taiyuan lu. It has changed since 1931 and a small building on the right has been turned down but the location is still easy to recognise. The CMF stones have been covered or removed but the iconic door on the left side is still here. In 1931, this part of the city was recently built and urbanised. Like many buildings in this area, this settlement was owned by the “Société Fonci`ere et immobili`ère” also called Foncim, one of the major real estate company in the French Concession.
Later on in the movie, the main character goes to look for jobs in the business district. This is clearly filmed in the area behind the Bund, but exact locations are difficult to identify apart from one. In Old Shanghai, the French Concession was a residential area, and the International Settlement’s district behind the Bund was the location for finance and trading houses.
During his job search, the character walks up the street shown above. One ca recognise the famous furniture store “Arts and Crafts” that was located on the corner of Bubbling Well Road and Park Road (today Nanjing Xi Lu and HuangHe Lu). This particular building does not exist anymore and was replaced by a higher corner building. The space of the HS Honisberger building, is now occupied by Park Hotel (built in 1934). The scene was filmed in front of the Foreign YMCA (today Sport Museum), on the side of the horse race course (today people square). Just like the early scenes were filmed in the most modern residential district, this was filmed in the most modern business district of the city.
Ruan Lingyu (阮玲玉) was one of the stars of Old Shanghai movies. Acting in silent movies her career brutaly stopped when she committed suicide in 1935.
One of her main movies, “Love and Duty”（恋爱与义务）1931, was supposed to be lost until a full copy was found in Uruguay in the early 1990s. After restoration, the film was shown at Shanghai Film festival in 2014.
Love and Duty is a melodramatic movie about the terrible choice of a lady between her high school sweetheart and her husband and family. It is a silent movie, with all intertitles both in English and in Chinese as it was often the case then in Shanghai. The first part of the movie is taking place in the high level neighborhood. It gives a great look into the life of upper class Chinese people in Old Shanghai. I have read many books about it (including ‘Remembering Shanghai“), or seen modern movies (see post “Shanghai the movie“) as well as tv series taking place in Old Shanghai. However, seeing a real movie from the area depicting the real life of people is amazing.
The restaurant scene in the movie is stunning. This is taking place in the early 1930’s. A couple in love goes for a date in a western restaurant, eating with fork and knife, drinking (imported) red wine (a few images before), while listening to Jazz music with Art Deco back ground. When I came to Shanghai about 20 years, this kind of scene was not so common in the city and very rare out of Shanghai. A place like legendary M on the Bund, opened only in 2002. It was really difficult to imagine that 1930s Shanghai was already so modern and westernised.
Just like today, imported drinks were readily available and consumed.
The former French Concession was clearly then one of the desired place to live. Above image is newspaper article read in the movie (first in Chinese, then in English), clearly mentionning Rue Lafayette (today Fuxing Lu) as a place of living for “a local wealthy resident”.
On the top of intertitles in Chinese and English, signage shown in the background is always bilingual, as it was surely usual in Shanghai then. A large part of the movie takes place in Shanghai city. Although it is not mentionned, it is either in the International Settlement or in the French Concession. I am working on a specific post will be dedicated to film locations.
Cars were a luxury items but private cars and taxis were readily available for the upper part of the society. Old movies from the 1920 or 1930’s Shanghai ( see Old Shanghai short movie) often shows the busy streets of the international settlements. Some of the scenes are filmed along plane tree planted road that were surely located in the former French Concession. I have never seen this kind of pictures before. There are a few scenes of 1920s modernity with cars, including one with road work (!) as seen below.
The last piece that I thought really showed that Shanghai was a very modern city is the hero scene. The main male characters reads a novel, called the hero. Then he dreams that he is saving his beloved after a pirate style sword fight.
This scene is very strongly inspired by some Hollywood movie scene from the period. Sword fight movies, also called swashnucklers, were really fashionnable at that time. The Hollywood start of the genre was Douglas Fairbanks, with movies including “The mark of Zorro” (1920) and “The three musketers” (1921). “The black pirate”(1926) clearly influenced the movie as seen in this sword fight scene. Hollywood movies were very popular in Shanghai. Douglas Fairbanks arctually visited Shanghai and stayed at the Majestic Hotel. The success of Hollywood moviedhelped to make the Spanish colonial revial architectural style popular in Shanghai (See post “Spanish revival architecture” for more details) as well as Art Deco. Hollywood movies also strongly inspired the local production, turning Shanghai into a little Hollywood in Asia.
For a look into actual film location of the movie “Love and Duty”, please go to post “Love and Duty (part 2)“.