“City Scenes” and Musical Comedy in ’30s Shanghai: Thin slate

Page 4
The story-script, page 1.

Movie history source(s) agree that unlike Malu Tianshi, City Scenes was shot from a fairly elaborate scriptbook (jiaoben), which is logically likely, since comic films tend to have fast-paced and intricate action flows, in line with the typically comic need to keep the audience surprised or off-balance (something of course that “screwball” comedy takes to an extreme). Mood or melodrama are not there to fill transitional spaces, so plot twists tend to multiply. Further, if the comic mode is instructive social satire, hijinks decorating serious comment, the audience being held up to itself in a glass to show how ridiculous or even worse its manners are, the lens needs constant twirling (just as the audience needs constant re-puzzlement) so the shooting sequences need to be compressed and fast-moving, not something for ad lib play.

Thus we have not one but two storyline scripts, indicating that the creative minds behind the film were not quite sure how comedy could be made serious.

Script 1

At a small train station somewhere inland, several countryfolk are awaiting a train to take them to Shanghai. (At the station) they encounter a diorama exhibit(or) who solicits their business. They surround the machine and (through its peepholes) get to see a full-fledged exhibit of life in the city.

(As they watch), a penniless intellectual named Li Menghua (“dreamer of the highlife”) leaves his lodging in full Western drag. He has but 20 yuan in his pocket (+/- $US 14?), which however he spends on a fancy blouse for Miss Zhang Xiaoyun , the narcissistic maiden-fair he has his sights set on.

(Gift in hand) he strolls gaily to her home, only there to encounter his love-rival, the commercial speculator Wang Junsan on his way out, a look of self-satisfaction on his face.

Miss Xiaoyun decides on going to see a film. But (by then) he has no money left. On the excuse that he will go one ahead to buy the tickets, he runs off to a small pawnshop to pawn his wristwatch for 2 yuan so that he can satisfy Xiaoyun’s desire.

(But) when the film ends and the crowd exits, there awaits Wang Junsan who has come in his limo. Xiaoyun (at once) accepts his invitation for a ride, charges into Junsan’s vehicle and bids (an ungracious) farewell to her (original date) Li Menghua. Who can only watch them roll off, with a sigh.

(Some days later) Li sets out to deliver a love letter and arrives at Ms Xiaoyun’s home in grand spirits. Just then Xiaoyun is in a funk because she has been invited by a girlfriend to be best maid at her wedding but hasn’t the proper (fancy) clothing for the part.

Her (well-meaning) father cudgels his brains for a way to help her, but all he can devise is to give her a devalued Fengtian (Manchurian warlord) banknote, which no vendor will take.

The bride-to-be bids Xiaoyun to (accompany her on a ) visit to a (fashionable) couturier in order to commission a wedding dress (for her friend); but after that order is placed Xiaoyun adds in a fur overcoat which causes her friend to run off in a panic (at the expense).

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