Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Pan si dong / The Spider Cave

盘丝洞 / [The film was not released in Finland] / Edderkoppene / The Cave of the Silken Web / [La caverna del ragno] - Alternate title: 西游记-盘丝洞 / Xiyu ji - Pan si dong / The Journey to the West - The Spider Cave (Shanghai Photoplay Co. / [Shanghai Shadow Play] - CN 1927). D: Darwin Dan [Dan Duyu]; asst. dir: Chen Baoqi. SC: Guan Jian - based on Part Three of the novel  西遊記 / Xiyu ji / The Journey to the West (1505-1582) by Wu Chengen. DP: Dan Ganting; ED: Guan Ji’an; AD: Xia Weixian; drawings: Fang Xuegu; C: Yin Mingzhu (the Spider Queen, the first spider spirit), He Ronghzu (The Man in White), Jiang Meikang (Tang Xuanzang, the pilgrim, or Tripitaka), Wu Wenchao (Wukong, the monkey), Zhou Hongquan (Zhu Wuneng, the pig / Pigsy), Zhan Jiali (Sha Wujing, the shark / Sha Heshang), Dan Erchun (Sandy), Xia Peizhen (second spider spirit), Chen Baoqi (Yellow Flower Daoist spirit); orig. l:  ca 1900 m; 35 mm, 1214 m, 59' (18 fps); col. (tinted, Desmet method); titles: CHN, NOR; print source: Nasjonalbiblioteket, Oslo.
    With e-subtitles in English and Italian, grand piano: Mie Yamashita, also playing Oriental percussion instruments, at Teatro Verdi (Le Giornate del Cinema Muto), Pordenone, 7 Oct 2014

Tina Anckarman (GCM catalog and website): "Pan si dong is a rare and very early example of the magic-spirit film, a genre that was extremely popular in Shanghai in the late 1920s, very few examples of which have survived. It helped to create the genre, and its mystical theme, nudity, and depiction of desire were all new to Chinese audiences. The film’s story is derived from “The Visit to the Western World”, one of the classic masterpieces of Chinese literature. It relates one of the many adventures of Tang Hiuen Tsiang, a pilgrim monk who is sent by the Emperor to seek Buddhist literature in the Western World. Accompanying Tang on this quest are three followers, a monkey, a pig, and a shark spirit. The pilgrim meets six adorable young women when he is begging for alms. The women invite the unsuspecting pilgrim to their cave, and try to convince him to remain. The cave’s inhabitants are ruled by the Spider Queen, who tries her best to seduce the pilgrim and make him marry her, but he resists. Meanwhile, Tang’s followers fight the spider sisters to save their holy monk, but their efforts are in vain, until they learn how to use the art of spitting fire from the White Goddess, and finally succeed in rescuing the pilgrim from the burning cave."

"The film was a huge success in China in 1927. Although there is no documentation of ticket sales, Pan si dong is known to have set a new box-office record at the time."

"This preservation copy is from a Norwegian print from 1929, bearing the title Edderkoppene (The Spiders), which was found at the National Library of Norway in 2011. It was previously regarded as a lost film. The material is incomplete, missing the first reel and some sequences in the middle portion of the narrative. The original length was approximately 1900 metres, of which 1200 have survived. There are no documents confirming the film’s distribution in Norway or other European countries. So far Pan si dong is the only production by the Shanghai Photoplay Company to be rediscovered."

"The Norwegian print had been given Norwegian intertitles, but also retained the original ones in Chinese characters. Probably the original version had both Chinese and English intertitles, a practice common in Shanghai in the 1920s. Most likely the Norwegian intertitles are translations of the original English ones, which were credited to Xu Weihan. There is a considerable difference between the Chinese intertitles and the Norwegian ones, and Norwegian newspapers in 1929 were critical of the translations. It is possible that the mistakes in the Norwegian titles might derive from the poor interpretation of the original English translations; however, since there is no documentation, such as an original title list, we may never know. The electronic subtitles prepared for this Desmettinted copy, made at the Haghefilm laboratories in Amsterdam, are new English translations of the original Norwegian intertitles." Tina Anckarman

AA: Like the masterpiece of Chinese animation, The Monkey King / Da nao tian gong / 大闹天宫 / 大鬧天宮 (1961, by Wan Lai-ming and his brothers), Pan si dong / The Spider Cave is based on The Journey to the West, the classic novel on the pilgrimage of the monk Xuanzang to India during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He has three disciples, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, plus a fourth character, the Dragon prince, who has taken the form of a white horse and carries Zuanzang. (Formulations adapted from The Chinese Mirror. A Journal of Chinese Film History).

This film is based on events in chapters 23-86 of the novel, including the land of women and spider spirits.

Memorable images include views of a banquet being prepared in the cave, metamorphoses into spiders, the web of love, the cleansing fire, and "all threads of love burned - such is life". Nude bath scenes of the original film have been cut.

I have seen Chinese silent films before, including ones starring the legendary Ruan Lingyu, but this one is different.

The Spider Cave is a religious film, a fantasy film, a fairy-tale film, perhaps an erotic film, but not in the cut print we saw, and a film with affinities with Shanghai Opera. It is often charming, at times amateurish, even resembling a home movie or a student romp. There is a sense of filmed theatre, yet also of true inspiration. We are at the origins of a film tradition which continued later with the Shaw Brothers (who remade this as The Cave of the Silken Web) and others but in the 1930s the budding tradition was cut short with the tightening of censorship.

Visual quality: from their unique nitrate print Nasjonalbiblioteket has reconstructed and restored the film with loving care. The film now makes as much sense as can possibly be expected. When the image is good we can enjoy the beautiful visual quality and the fine toning. There is at times a digital look, but the film has been redeemed from footage sometimes on the verge of destruction.

A great treasure has been brought back to life.

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