it too early to nominate persecuted human rights attorney Pu Zhiqiang for next
year’s Nobel Peace Prize? Ai Weiwei’s former lawyer certainly would be a
deserving recipient, but the Norwegian parliament might be a little gun shy
about acknowledging another Chinese human rights activist given Beijing’s
hyperventilating response to Liu Xiaobo’s 2010 Nobel honor. However, a 1927
silent “ghost-spirit” film previously considered lost might have rebuilt some
diplomatic bridges (so why not burn them up again?). An incomplete but highly
watchable print discovered in the National Library of Norway has since been
restored and restituted to China, where hopefully they will keep better track
of it this time. Fortunately, the entire world will now have opportunities to
see Dan Duyu’s The Cave of the Silken Web,
which screened during MoMA’s annual To Save and Project festival of film
Web was one of the first partial adaptations
of the mammoth epic The Journey to the West
and a leading early example of the mystical ghost-spirit genre. Obviously, it was
a hit. After all, the Shaw Brothers did not remake flops. It also encompasses a
section of the novel that arguably parallels elements of Homer’s Odyssey, such as Calypso and the Sirens.
legendary monk Xuanzang had commenced his pilgrimage to India in search of
sacred Buddhist texts but he was waylaid by the Spider Queen and her six Spider
Hotties in her titular cave. Ordinarily, they would just eat forlorn travelers,
but since Xuanzang has the cachet of a monk, the queen intends to marry him. It
will be up to his baffled companions, the Monkey King, Pigsty, and Friar Sand
to save him from such an un-horrifying fate.
is easy to laugh at Web’s effects in
the post-Avatar era, but at the time
it was probably really something to show a woman transforming into a spider.
Reportedly, Web also featured nude
scenes (that do not survive in the Norwegian print), so it must have been quite
a spectacle indeed. Frankly, it is rather charming to see a major silent era
filmmaker testing the limits of what film can do. It is also great to have
another example of Chinese silent superstar Yin Mingzhu vamping it up as the
Spider Queen. Eighty-seven years later, in a print that still carries the scars
of time, we can still see her “It-Girl” presence.
ought to program a sequential festival of films based on Wu Cheng’en’s Journey, encompassing the radical stylistic
diversity of the animated Monkey King: Uproar in Heaven and Luo Li’s arthouse modernization, Emperor Visits the Hell. It would be great to add Web’s silent eccentricity into the mix.
Yet, its vibe is not so very different from Stephen Chow & Derek Kwok’s
gleeful cosmic beatdown, Journey to the West.
Web has enormous cultural
significance, but it has the extra added bonus of being great popcorn fun. At
MoMA, it was paired with China and the
Chinese, Part 2, an eighteen minute Benjamin Brodsky newsreel from 1917. It
is more of a historical curio, but the footage of the eight year-old acrobat-contortionist
still draws an enthusiastic audience response. Highly recommended for fans of
arachnid femme fatales and Journey to the
West movies, The Web of the Silken
Cave should hopefully have many more public screenings in the future at
silent movie and Asian themed festivals.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Journey to the West, Silent Films, Yin Mingzhu