Wednesday 20 July 2022

On Blu-ray - A major rediscovery - LOVE AND DUTY (Bu Wancang, China, 1931)

In the scheme of DVD distribution, it seems that those who survive and prosper are those who offer something beyond what is available on the streaming services. Which basically means a restored copy accompanied by loads of extras. Somewhat out of the blue a Melbourne company Imprint seems to be taking this neck of the market by storm with Blu-ray editions sold at premium prices but loaded to the max with features specially done for the edition. At near $30 a copy they have still apparently carved out an international market. A recent case in point serves as a good example. Sam Fuller’s
 China Gate, not one of Fuller’s best known or most admired movies. is out now and there you find an audio commentary, a personal look at the film by Fuller’s wife and daughter and a new video essay on Angie Dickinson by Kat Ellinger. Substantial stuff.

The Beijing based Diskino is another in this classy company and its latest release Love and Duty  a silent made in China in 1931 may well be the Blu-ray of the Year. Diskino doesn’t seem to have a website accessible in English, or at least able to be found via Google but you can find a Master List of titles it has released IF YOU CLICK HERE. There are several groups of titles but the collection that has the buffs excited is its World Cinema Library series which among a host of quality titles mostly from the US you can find from WCL release #15 onwards, some of the key Fifth Generation film-makers’ titles -  Red Sorghum, The Horse Thief, The Black Cannon Incident, King of the Children and The Swordsman of Double Flag Town. All have been published in very limited editions and I believe most are out of print.


Love and Duty was directed by Bu Wancang/Richard Po in 1931 for the Lianhua Film Company. Long believed lost, a nitrate copy of the film was found in Uruguay in the 1990s and shipped back to the Taiwan Film Archive. The restoration work was done at the Cineteca di Bologna’s L’immagine Ritrovato laboratory in 2013 and, apart from one tiny section clearly damaged beyond repair, has been brought back to remarkable life.  It had its first screening at the Shanghai Film Festival in 2014. Now Diskino has gone to work and added a superb piano score by the highly-esteemed accompanist Maud Nelissen.


Ruan Lingyu  as a schoolgirl

The film itself, some 2h 31m long, is a sprawling love story that takes place over 20 years or more even though the exterior look of the film, the cars and clothing, don’t change. It is a showcase for the remarkable Ruan Lingyu, China’s greatest silent film star, who ages from schoolgirl to middle-aged mother (and doubles up as her own daughter in one scene). Ruan was an extraordinary figure in early Chinese cinema and if you want a brief portrait of her you can find it in Janice Tong’s notes for another of Ruan’s greatest films The Goddess  published for the screening of that film at Cinema Reborn earlier this year.

Ruan Lingyu as middle-aged single mother

As with the other quality DVD publishers, Diskino loads up its Chinese titles with extras. Love and Duty  has a bunch including a short memoir by Stanley Kwan about his casting for for his biopic of Ruan Lingyu and a booklet with an interview with Maud Nelissen who composed and played the music track. Then there is a 1h 18m exposition direct to camera by Tony Rayns, directed by Penguan Gu,  which goes into the state of Chinese film production at the time, the history of its various studios and production companies and later, the careers of Richard Po, Ruan Lingyu and RAYMOND KING/ Jin Yan. Rayns seems to pronounce Raymond King with considerable emphasis every time he mentions the anglicised name.


Love and Duty has been screened in Australia. Before Bologna’s restoration work had been done it was presented with a live accompaniment on traditional Chinese instruments at MIFF in 2006. I wasn’t there. I was  however enthralled by Nelissen’s score specially recorded for the Diskino edition. It gets into the heart of the action for what is a long story of love, an arranged marriage, the reuniting of the teenage sweethearts and the mostly heartbreak that follows. Ruan is magnetic throughout.


Richard Po made some 80 films from silent right through to the sixties. Even Rayns admits to seeing no more than ten.There were were two remakes of Love and Duty, the first of which in 1938, also starred Raymond King/Jin Yan and was directed again by Richard Po/Bu Bu Wancang


There are places on the net which sell the very limited copies of Diskino’s editions. Try and track one down.

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