Yi jiang chun shui xiang dong liu (The Spring River Flows East) (1947)
Director: Chusheng Cai, Junli Zheng.
Starring: Yang Bai (Sufen), Tao Jin (Zhang Zhongliang), Yang Nai, Yunzhu Shangguan (He Wenyuan), Xiuwen Shu (Wang Lizheng), Yinyan Wu (Mother-in-law), Gongshang Yan, Boxun Zhou (Pang Haogong).
in pre-war, wartime and post-war a family is split by the war with Japan
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
Part One. Eight War Torn Years.
A boat on the river is surrounded by mountains.
"How much sorrow can one man bear? As much as a river of spring water flowing east."
Shanghai, September 18, 1931. People are working in a textile mill. After the work day is over, many go to class.
The workers put on a show for their fellow workers. There is a great deal of applause for Miss Lizhen Wang and her Spanish dance. Zhongliang is the host for the evening performances. Part way through the performance, Zhongliang gets up on the stage and gives a patriotic speech dealing with the Japanese invasion of China. He says: "We have an obligation to drive out the foreign invaders. . . .We have to do our part to help the Northeast Volunteer army." He asks for money for the troops. The audience throws coins onto the stage.
Backstage the coins are being counted. An assistant to the manager of the factory tells Zhongliang that the manager wants to speak with him. The manager tells Zhongliang that while he appreciates his patriotism, he is afraid that this will incite the Japanese (who occupy Manchuria) to react. The Japanese will surely protest, he says.
Zhongliang likes a pretty woman named Sufen. He asks her to come eat with him at his mother's place. Sufen agrees to come. After dinner they hug and he puts a ring on her ring finger. He wants to marry her. He is worried, however, about the political situation. The situation in northeast China is getting worse. He says there's something brewing up there.
The couple marries and soon Sufen is pregnant. They have their child. It's a boy.
July 7. The Lugou Bridge Incident at the Manchurian border. The beginning of the war.
September 13. The Shanghai Army rose to resist the invaders. Shops start evacuating their merchandise.
Zhongliang and Sufen's little boy was born on the day of the start of the war. They named him Kangsheng, meaning "son of resistance". Miss Wang is going to visit the Governor of Hankou. (Hankou was one of three cities merging into modern Wuhan, capital of the Hubei province. It is located north of where the Han River falls into Yangtze River.) Refugees pack the streets. Zhongliang goes home. He will be working as a medic for the army. He tells his family that the war situation is not good. Their troops have pulled out of Nanshi and Zhangbei and soon they will be pulled from Shanghai. Zhongliang tells them they should stay in the city. Sufen worries that she will not see her husband again. She cries. Her husband asks her not to cry for they will see happier days. He says they will persevere.
The Japanese are coming closer. Japanese bomber planes bomb Shanghai. People are running trying to get out of the city and away from the bombing.
1937. Year 26 of the Republic of China.
The Japanese soldiers ignore the white flags of the Chinese medics. One of the medics with a white flag is shot dead. Zhongliang has to play dead in order to survive.
1938. Year 27 of the Republic of China.
Mom and Sufen show the baby to Grandpa and Uncle. Elder brother is in Hankou. Otherwise, they are all in the countryside now. Dogs bark. Younger brother Zhongmin says to his four compatriots that those Japanese devils want to capture them. They will rendezvous at Zhongmin's place in twenty minutes and leave the area. They say they are going to find the governor. They all successfully rendezvous in twenty minutes. The dogs bark again. The Japanese have already arrived. The four go out the back door. The Japanese force their way into the house.
Zhongliang runs into Miss Wang. She tells him that she is going to Chongqing.
1939, Year 28 of the Republic of China.
The Japanese take the livestock of the people of the countryside, including the cow of Sufen's family. A Chinese woman protests and the Japanese release their German shepherd dog on her. When they take grandpa's cow, he cries. He says the cow had kept them alive for sixteen years.
1940. Year 29 of the Republic of China.
The Japanese are very tough overseers of their Chinese workers. Grandfather is very ill but they still make him work in the rice paddies. He, grandmother and Sufen all have to act like horses pulling the plow. The Japanese beat the men who fall out from exhaustion. Zhongliang has been captured. He runs over to get a drink of water from a pond and gets hit with a rifle butt several times. At night Zhongliang is able to free his hands and get away.
The villagers are starving. They select grandfather to be their spokes person. Grandfather does speak for them. But the Japanese commander only says that grandfather is stirring up the villagers. He gives the order to hang the spokesperson. The Japanese do indeed hang grandfather. The Japanese commander says: "See what comes of your disobedience?" Of course, grandfather's family is shocked and distressed to see grandfather hanged. And the Japanese demand that the body be left to hang as a warning to others. If that wasn't bad enough, a Japanese machine gunner opens up on the crowd. Sufen writes Zhongliang about what happened.
Guerilla fighters kill the Japanese sentries and then descend on the town. They blow up some of the buildings and shoot the Japanese who survive. They cut down grandfather's body. Among the guerilla fighters is Zhongmin, his son and wife. He has his mother, sister-in-law and the young boy go back to Shanghai by boat. Everyone else is going to the mountains to fight another day.
1941. Year 30 of the Republic of China.
Zhongliang is now in the city of Chongqing. Even though he was a medic in the army he is rejected for employment without being given any reasons for the rejection. He is soon very down and out. Then one day he sees a notice in the newspaper that business mogul Pang Haogong has adopted Wang Lizhen (Miss Wang) as his stepdaughter. Zhongliang goes to her house. At first Miss Wang doesn't recognize him, but it suddenly dawns on her. She says: "We fought the Japanese together." Zhongliang says his home lies in ruins; his brother's brigade was caught on a mountain; their village was invaded; his father died in misery; and he doesn't know where his mother is. He has no money for food and lodging. Miss Wang decides to let him stay in the small guest room.
Zhongliang is now in a business suit, getting a haircut. Lizhen calls her stepfather and virtually blackmails him to give Zhongliang. a job. He sends Zhongliang to see Old Gong. Miss Wang and Zhongliang go to see old Gong.
Zhongliang is excited about his first day at work and reports in early. But he has to wait hours for the rest of the crew to drag themselves in to work. Zhongliang soon learns that no one has any work to do. Some workers are sleeping, others drawing or reading. He looks around the area and finds a bunch of people gambling in the back. At night the crew take Zhongliang out to dinner with them. They insist that he drink liquor, which he doesn't ordinarily drink. The gang wants to party on, but Zhongliang says he needs to get home.
At home Zhonglian is also bored. And he is homesick. He thinks of his family. Miss Wang finds him somewhat depressed. He tells her that at work there is no atmosphere to continue the war effort. Miss Wang gives him some money and tells him to go see a movie.
Mother and daughter-in-law have to do washing to make ends meet. Chungqing is a few thousand miles away from them. Mother really wants to see her son again.
Zhongliang is still bored at work. He invites his boss out to dinner and he promptly gets drunk. Then he says to his boss: "Damn it! You're a bad man.!" Zhongliang is very discouraged. He says everywhere people are keeping him down. He shouts: "I will be somebody!"
Sufen works now at a refugee station. The children seems to love her a great deal and she is so good with them. Grandmother is sick and says: "I'll be better off dead." Sufen scolds her for saying that. Grandmother asks why hasn't her son written in so long a time? Sufen says he probably doesn't even know they're living in Shanghai.
Zhongliang is in the bedroom with Miss Wang. He says that he is a man without a family. Miss Wang tells him that they are his family now. They kiss while on the bed.
Sufen misses her husband. The roof starts leaking in a very hard rain. Everyone inside is cold and wet. One of the windows is blown off its hinges. Sufen has to go outside and retrieve the window in order to force it back into place.
Part Two. The Dawn.
Zhongliang wakes up in bed with Miss Wang. He still thinks about his wife and their past. Her stepfather invites her to lunch. Miss Wang says she is bringing his "adopted son" to the lunch. She tells Zhongliang that he will be her stepfather's personal secretary.
When stepdad is introduced to Zhongliang as his adopted son, he laughs and says: "My son-in-law perhaps?" Dad announces to everyone at the lunch that Zhongliang is now his secretary. He then introduces Zhongliang to some really big businessmen. For lunch they have lobster brought in by airplane from Calcutta, India.
Zhongliang dances with Lizhen. An automobile picks them up. At work Zhongliang now smokes cigars. His colleagues agree that he has become a very shrewd businessman.
Grandmother has Sufen write a letter for her to Zhongliang. She describes the terrible conditions under which they live under Japanese occupation. One day the Japanese come and tell Sufen and other residents of a building to get out. This will be the commander's headquarters. Now Sufen and her family are on the streets.
Zhongliang and Lizhen Wang marry.
Sufen and her family along with other families are held in an area surrounded by barbed wired. One man gets out and the Japanese fire at him. The Japanese are mad now and they force the people, many of them elderly, into the cold waters of a canal.
Zhongliang is drunk at the wedding reception. Old Wang delivers two letters from his family that ask him to bring troops. Both letters are three years old. Lizhen comes over and wants to see the letters which Zhongliang tries to keep from her. Finally, he rips them up and throws the remnants into the river. Lizhen is mad at him and wonders what he is up to.
The audience demands that Lizhen and Zhongliang do a tango for them.
The Japanese look for any Chinese survivors. One woman in the canal starts to go crazy. She insists on getting up on land. When the Japanese see her, they shoot her in the back.
August 1945. Japan surrenders to the Allies.
Zhongliang dances on the table in celebration of the defeat of Japan. Stepfather is going to Shanghai and Zhongliang wants to go with him. His wife is mad because she can't go. Zhongliang soothes her hurt feelings by saying she can come later when they have settled in Shanghai.
Sufen tells her mother-in-law that people in town are saying that the Japanese have surrendered. In a hotel in Shanghai Manager Wen gets a telegram. He tells his wife that Zhongliang is coming with the boss. Just then Mr. Wen is arrested for cooperating with the Japanese occupation forces.
Shanghai is planning a big celebration complete with fireworks. Grandmother tells Sufen: "Those devils finally surrendered." Grandma says she feels well enough to walk outside.
The airplane carrying Zhongliang and the boss/stepfather arrives in Shanghai. Zhongliang meets his wife's cousin. Her name is He Wenyan. Zhongliang introduces the cousin to Pang Haogong of the Daxing Trading Company. At night Zhongliang and Wenyan go out dancing.
Sufen thinks about the early days with Zhongliang.
Manager Wen is in jail. A woman comes to see him. Then his wife An Yan comes in and the woman goes out. She asks who was that woman? The husband says that was nobody. But his wife is already upset with him. She calls him an S.O.B. because he was cheating on her.
Zhongliang flirts with his wife's cousin and she flirts with him.
Sufen's letter to Zhongliang did not go through. Postage has risen 900% percent. The landlady tells Sufen that her rent is two months late. Sufen tells her that her son will bring it to her. The landlady is skeptical. Sufen tells grandmother that she is thinking of becoming a maid. She gets the job.
The cousin is in bed with Zhongliang.
Sufen goes to work as a maid. It turns out that she will be working for He Wenyan. Sufen briefly meets the cousin of Zhongliang's wife Lzhen. Lizhen arrives in Shanghai and is greeted by Zhongliang and her cousin.
Sufen's son Kangsheng selling newspapers on the streets gets hit by a bicyclist. His knee hurts him.
Wenyan gets jealous when she sees Zhongliang kissing her cousin. When Zhongliang sneaks away from his wife for a moment he kisses Wenyan.
Kangsheng comes to his mother's place of work to have her look at his knee. The two of them cry about having to wait for so long for Zhongliang to come back to them.
Stepfather, who is now a governor, arrives at the big celebration party. Zhongliang sits between his wife and her cousin, both of whom are upset with him.
Sufen gets some leftover food for her family from the chef. She wraps it up in newspaper and gives it to her son to take home so grandmother and he can have dinner. Then she has to go back to work. She is given the job of serving drinks to the guests. She places some drinks on the table right next to Zhongliang but does not see his face. Sufen watches the dancing for a little while. Zhongliang and Lizhen are asked to perform a tango for the crowd. Stepdad introduces them to the crowd and Sufen hears her husband's name mentioned. But she dismisses the possibility of a connection But when she is in the middle of the dancing floor she is shocked to see Zhongliang and hear that Zhongliang and his wife Lizhen will perform the tango. Sufen can't believe it! And now Zhongliang sees her. Feeling light-headed Sufen drops the plate of drinks. And she nearly faints. Cousin asks her: "Why did you make me lose face? . . . Why did you stumble?" But Lizhen demands to know from Zhongliang what this woman means to him. He doesn't answer so Lizhen demands to know from Sufen: "What is he to you?" Sufen finally says: "He's my husband." Lizhen screams.
Lizhen tells her cousin to take Sufen outside. Sufen tells stepdad that she and Zhongliang have been married for ten years and they have a nine year old boy. Lizhen tells her cousin that she could kill her. Upset she runs upstairs. Zhongliang asks: "Sufen, what is it you really want?" She tells him that she doesn't want anything. Zhongliang says he thought she was dead. Sufen leaves. Zhongliang starts to follow after her, but someone yells to him to come because Lizhen has fainted.
When Zhongliang is at his wife's side, she tells him that she could kill him. One of Lizhen's male friends makes a move on the cousin and she seems willing.
Sufen tries to go home, but is turned back by a policemen who tells her that it is past the curfew. He tells her to turn around and go.
Lizhen demands that Zhongliang divorce Sufen immediately. Zhongliang says he will.
Sufen is able to come home. Uncle wrote the family. He writes that he got married. He was in the battle in which the former governor was killed. Grandmother is happy to hear that her son is alright and is married. She comments that they have lived through eight bitter years, but finally they live in peace. Reading the letter, Suffen gets more and more upset . She cannot contain herself anymore. She drops on the bed crying. Grandmother wants to know what's wrong and she finally tells her that Zhongliang is living in Shanghai. And what'is worse, he doesn't want to find them. She adds that he has forgotten about all of them. He's been here for more than a month without even thinking of coming to see them. And he married another woman. Zhongliang told her that he believed they were already dead. But Grandmother wants to see her son immediately.
The butler tells Zhongliang that his family is waiting for him downstairs. Lizhen hears the conversation, but pretends to still be sleeping. Zhongliang goes down and tells his mother that he tried to find them. His son will not go to him. He goes to his mother instead. Grandmother asks her son if he is going to abandon his wife and child? Zhongliang remains silent. She then asks her son to apologize to his son who is often hungry. Grandma adds: "You made your son an orphan in your lifetime."
Lizhen comes down to yell at her husband. She tells him he brought this on himself and asks: "Have you no conscience?"
Sufen leaves and the boy follows her. She goes down by the pier at the river. It looks like she planned to jump in the river to kill herself. She tells her son to go get her something to eat. The boy goes and buys a round cake. When he comes back his mother has already jumped into the river. Her son cries. He goes to see his grandmother and she and the others with her ask him where is his mother? He says she jumped into the river.
Grandmother and grandson cry at the pier over their loss. Zhongliang arrives with the two women in a limousine. He gets out of the car and goes to his mother. Grandmother says that Sufen is dead because of him. She speaks of the family's endless, endless suffering. She lifts her eyes up to heaven and asks: "Heaven, why this madness?"
The movie has been called China's "Gone with the Wind", but it has too many faults to be that. No matter what happened with Scarlett and Rhett, they always remained basically good people who were in love with each other. Zhongliang the husband turned out to be a real heartless bastard and Rhett certainly was never that. Sufen is the self-sacrificing mother and wife, but she is just way too passive and doesn't compare well with Scarlett. My wife says the poem in the film should ask "How much sorrow can one woman bear?" rather than "How much sorrow can one man bear?" And there really was not much of an ending to the movie. It leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
Grandmother summarizes most of the film with her comment about her family's endless, endless suffering. Scarlett triumphed over adversity, but Sufen was the victim of adversity and betrayal by her husband. Basically, the film was too desperately sad to be any nation's "Gone with the Wind."
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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