1. Wartime Machines and Wartime Marooning
The Film Dalu 大路 (Lianhua Studios, Shanghai, 1934, Dir. Sun Yu (1900-1980)) is incontrovertibly a B class film, using Hollywood borrowed sub-plots and role-playing to spin a yarn of Resist Japan, much earlier than the Resist Japan art film hit its stride (if it ever did).
But as if by accident it tells its tale in a distinctly Magic(al) Realist mode, this well before that genre was in play globally. It is “about” the isolation (sometimes poetic or freedom-tolerant, at other times demeaning or dangerous, an unwanted condition) of backwater China, a country of meager roads and dependence on river transport, though we do not get to see see to much it in “magical” construct, except where it links to freelarking and custom-defiant cavorting by the “Leonora” -Mo Li – the “plus” side of isolation, for a puckish figure of the sort she plays could scarcely be imagined or scripted in an urban setting.
To start: where are we? Again in Magical Realist mode, in a static nowhere land: perhaps in the Huai basin (Anhui)- [in the heartbreaking “documentaries” of flood victims, shown as Li Lili sings of Fengyang, in the Huai catchment, where Good Earth is also set]; perhaps along the Zhejiang/Anhui border where the Huling Pass (terminus of the road) is actually located; but certainly divorced from the metrocenter of Shanghai. The DEPARTURE from which is the story told in part 5 (20:00 ff) of the film, and even set to its own diegetic harmonica music. (An instrumental pre-quote of the song “Songstress under the Boot” 铁蹄下的歌女, “themesong” of 风云儿女 (1935), also composed by Nie Er, an “aria” of/for an extra-urban wandering female musician).