Director: Sang Hu (1956)
Quite a few short stories of Lu Xun (1881-1936), a pioneer of modern Chinese literature, have been put onto the screen since his death. However, the film Sacrifice, produced in 1956 by the Beijing Film Studio, is often considered the best adaptation.
The color feature film was adapted by Xia Yan (1900-1995), a famous writer and film critic. A native of Zhejiang, like Lu Xun, Xia was quite familiar with the local customs described in the original story. As Lu Xun's contemporary, Xia deeply understood the writer's critical attitude towards feudal ethics.
In Xia's adaptation, the major plot of the original remains unchanged. Sister Xianglin, a young widow, works as a maidservant in the Lu family. She works tirelessly and the mistress is quite satisfied. But before long, her deceased husband's family sells her to He Laoliu, a mountain villager. At the wedding ceremony, the woman tries to commit suicide but is saved by He. Moved by his honesty, she promises to be his wife and later gives birth to their baby. However, the good times do not last long. Her second husband dies and their only son is killed by wolves. When she returns to the Lu family, she is turned down because the mistress distrusts a twice-widowed woman. Sister Xianglin collapses, and on the eve of the Spring Festival, she is found dead in heavy snow.
Film adaptation is no easy job. While maintaining the essence of the novel, the film must recreate according to the characteristics of film-making. Sacrifice successfully portrays a village woman who is persecuted to death by hypocritical morality and ethics. In feudal China, if a woman's husband died, she was expected to remain in widowhood all her life. If she remarried, she would be discriminated against. While describing the tragic experience of Sister Xiangxin, the film also stresses her resistance.
In the original story, He Laoliu is only mentioned a few times, however, in the film, he is an important supporting role. Being single for many years, he borrows money to "buy" a wife because he wants to have a family like everyone else. He sympathizes with the hapless fate of Sister Xianglin and moves the woman at last.
By adapting Sacrifice, Xia summed up rich experience in adapting literary masterpieces. Two years later, he finished another film script which was adapted from writer Mao Dun's (1896-1981) novel The Lin Family Shop.
The success of Sacrifice is in part down to the natural performance of actress Bai Yang (1920-1996). As a film star, she went several times to Zhejiang countryside to observe folk customs and local women.
(China Daily June 9, 2006)