Shot during the last days of the Civil War in China’s transition to socialism, Crows and Sparrows is one of the best crafted films of the 1940s. But its director, Zheng Junli, navigated some treacherous political waters to get it made. The original script was banned by the Nationalist government, presumably because of its unflattering depiction of corruption, inflation, and social inequity. Then after the Communists invaded, the filmmaker tacked on a politically acceptable ending. The film captures the frenzy of change through several households in a traditional shikumen Shanghai building. The tenants, or “sparrows,” share their dreams and uncertainties of the future while facing the threat of eviction by the “crows,” the landlord couple preparing to flee Communist rule. One of the finest examples of critical realism spiced up with a dose of slapstick comedy, Crows and Sparrows features some of China’s most celebrated stars.
Synopsis: Acclaimed as a classic realism film made at the end of the turbulent ‘40s, Crows and Sparrows reflects an ever-growing zeal in the general public—fed up with corruption, inflation, and social inequity—for a new era and new society.At the twilight of the second Civil War, a corrupt Nationalist (KMT) official, Hou Yibo, forcibly takes over an apartment building from its original owner, Kong Youwen. As the defeat of the KMT is about to take place, Hou attempts to sell off the property to profit one last time before he escapes to Taiwan. His tenants, including Mr. Kong, Mrs. Xiao, Little Broadcast and Mr. Hua and his wife, have to find ways to avoid being thrown onto the street.
Crows and Sparrows (乌鸦与麻雀), 1949
Director: Zheng Junli. 111 minutes.
Mandarin, with English subtitles.
To view Crows and Sparrows click here: Crows and Sparrows
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Weihong Bao is an Associate Professor of Chinese and Film Studies at the University of California, Berkley. Bao received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 2006. She is the author of Fiery Cinema: The Emergence of an Affective Medium in China, 1915-1945. Her teaching and research interests cover late nineteenth century visual and performance culture, Chinese language cinema, comparative media history and theory, and the intersection between film and media. Her writings have appeared in such journals as Camera Obscura, New German Critique, Nineteenth Century Theater and Film, Opera Quarterly, The Journal of Chinese Cinemas, and The Journal of Modern Chinese Literature, among others. Bao serves on the editorial board for Feminist Media History and is co-editor for the “Film Theory in Media History” series published by Amsterdam University Press.