Director: Yuan Muzhi (1937)
If we select the top 10 movies in pre-1949 China, Street Angel will almost definitely be included. Whether in social significance or artistic value, Street Angel ranks among the best.
Produced in 1937 by the Shanghai-based Star Film Company, the film reflects the joys and sorrows, desires and pursuits of those living in the lowest position in society. The production crew is powerful with Yuan Muzhi as director, Wu Yinxian as cameraman, and He Luting creating the score.
The movie starts with two sisters seeking refuge in Shanghai from Japanese-occupied Northeast China. To make a living, elder sister Xiao Yun has to sell her body while younger sister Xiao Hong begs by singing on the street. Before long, Xiao Hong falls in love with a trumpeter. Disaster suddenly comes when the head of a local gang attempts to take possession of Xiao Hong. The young lovers have no alternative but to elope. Xiao Yun is finally killed by the gang.
The film amazed cinema-goers with its dramatic plots, moving love story, ordinary people's angle, black humor, tragic ending, and particularly beautiful film songs. Its success showed that Chinese films were approaching perfection and a galaxy of movie stars began to appear.
Whenever Street Angel is mentioned, we cannot but remember Zhou Xuan, who successfully portrays Xiao Hong, the street angel. Her cooperation with Zhao Dan (who plays the trumpeter) was considered a perfect pairing at the time. The two film songs, Four Seasons and Wandering Girl Singer, were sung by Zhou herself. When the movie was shown, the gramophone record of Zhou's film songs was released simultaneously, making the singer-actress an idol for millions with her pretty image and alluring voice.
A native of Jiangsu Province, Zhou was born in 1920. At the age of 12, she learned to perform with the Bright Moon Song and Dance Troupe and soon established her reputation in singing circles. In her short life of 37 years, Zhou sang more than 200 songs, of which 114 were film songs. Of all those songs, she held Four Seasons and Wandering Girl Singer most dear.
In 1938, Zhou got married with Yan Hua, also a song-and-dance performer. Three years later, they divorced. After this, Zhou experienced another two failures in marriage. She became mentally ill and in 1957 she died in Shanghai.
An ancient saying goes that a pretty woman usually has a tragic destiny. Zhou was just such a woman. It is nearly half a century since Zhou left us, however, her beautiful voice will always ring in our ears.
(China Daily April 14, 2006)