Thursday, June 28, 2018

San Mao liulang ji / The Winter of Three Hairs / The Adventures of Sanmao the Waif / An Orphan on the Streets

Zhang Leping: San Mao comics. The scene was also adapted in The Winter of Three Hairs.

San Mao liulang ji / The Winter of Three Hairs. Wang Longji (San Mao).

三毛流浪记 / Un orfano chiamato San Mao / San Mao le petit vagabond.
    Director: Zhao Ming, Yan Gong. Year: 1949. Country: Cina.
    Sog.: dal fumetto San Mao di Zhang Leping. Scen.: Yang Hansheng, Cheng Baishen. F.: Zhu Jinming, Han Zhongliang. M.: Fu Zhenyi. Scgf.: Zhang Hancheng. Mus.: Wan Yunjie. Int.: Wang Longji (San Mao), Lin Zhen (la ricca signora), Guan Hongda (il boss), Huang Chen (la moglie del ladro), Mo Chou (la signora Wu), Cheng Mo (lo spazzino). Prod.: Kunlun. 35 mm. D.: 90’. Bn.
    Print with French subtitles from Centre de Documentation sur le Cinéma Chinois (Paris).
    Copy deposited at CNC – Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée.
    E-subtitles in English and Italian by Sub-Ti Londra.
    Viewed at Cinema Jolly, Bologna, Il Cinema Ritrovato, The Rebirth of Chinese Cinema (1941-1951), 28 June 2018

Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung (Il Cinema Ritrovato): "San Mao, the funny little boy with only three hairs on his head, first appeared around 1935 in Zhang Leping’s comic-strips. Back in Shanghai after the war, Zhang got a job in the “Da Gong Bao” newspaper and he decided that his San Mao would be a street orphan. The winter of 1946 was harsh and he would never forget the dead bodies of children he had seen in the streets in the early morning. He met many orphans to find out more about them. The new San Mao appeared in the “Da Gong Bao” in July 1947. It was very successful and in early 1948, Yang Hansheng and Cheng Baishen proposed to Kunlun to shoot a film. In their scenario San Mao, an orphan among many others suffered from cold and hunger in the streets of Shanghai. He tried to earn some money by collecting cigarettes butts, selling newspapers, pushing carts, but all his efforts remained vain. A couple of pickpockets taught him how to steal and he was good at that, but he did not like it and he escaped. One day, tired of being poor, he decided to sell himself. A rich lady took him home to adopt him as her son. He did his best to please her but after a while he got tired of her and he went back to his early life in the street with his former friends." Marie Claire Kuo and Kuo Kwan Leung

"This movie adaptation of Zhang Leping’s comic-strip featuring Three-Hairs (San Mao) – still in print in book form today – preserves  the stylised character-design and social satire of the original but uses real Shanghai location filming as much as possible. There’s a neat self-referential touch: Three-Hairs at one point sells a copy of “Da Gong Bao” on the street."

"Three-Hairs starts out as the lowest of the low, sleeping in a night-soil cart, turns into an Oliver Twist character, desperately hungry and pressed into service as a pickpocket, and finally becomes a Boudu-like figure, taken in and ‘civilised’ by a bourgeois family – until he rebels and ends up back on the streets. Slapstick humour and class-caricatures dominate the action, all very faithful to Zhang Leping’s conception. The level of visual invention is high throughout: a flash of animation and other special effects are used to bring the boy’s fantasies to life, and studio-shot inserts are given an expressionist edge. The film was completed in August 1949, on the eve of the communist victory, and was immediately banned by Kuomintang censors. It was released at the end of that year with a newly added ending showing Three-Hairs and his friends dancing with the victory parade in the streets." [Tony Rayns?] (Il Cinema Ritrovato)

Wikipedia: "Sanmao (Chinese: 三毛; pinyin: Sānmáo) is a manhua character created by Zhang Leping in 1935. He is one of the world's longest running cartoon characters and remains a landmark as one of the most famous and beloved fictional characters in China today."

"The name Sanmao means "three hairs" in Chinese. While the character has undergone a number of transitions over time, he has always been drawn with the trademark three strands of hair, which implies malnutrition as a result of poverty."

"Most Chinese comic books prior to Sanmao featured adults and the Sanmao stories were also unusual in that they lacked dialogue and could therefore be classified as pantomime comics. When Zhang Leping created the manhua comic series, his main goal was to dramatize the confusion brought about to society by the Second Sino-Japanese War. He wanted to express his concern for the young victims of the war, particularly the orphans living on the streets. Most of the changes in the characters would come after World War II during the liberation in 1949."

"Sanmao's image has also been evolving throughout time, and in some modern continuation of the comics, he is depicted as a healthy, normal student. The character has also been portrayed as living through some of the most important periods in Chinese history and to futuristic space explorations."

"The comic takes place mainly during the 1930s and early 1940s and is set in Old Shanghai in its "golden era". Sanmao lived mostly in misery and stark poverty against a backdrop of war, colonization, and inflation."

"Zhang Leping (simplified Chinese: 张乐平; traditional Chinese: 張樂平; pinyin: Zhāng Lèpíng, November 10, 1910 - September 27, 1992) was a Chinese comic artist born in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province. He played a key role in the development of modern manhua in China, and is mostly remembered for his work in Sanmao." 

"In 1924 Zhang lived in extreme poverty and was unable to continue his primary school education. In the fall of 1927 his area was attacked by the Northern Expedition army. By 1928 at the age of 18 years, with the support of relatives, he was recommended by the teachers to re-enter school for formal a period of formal art education."

"In a short time the January 28 Incident occurred in 1932 and his artistic skills became the highest demand. China would use comics in anti-Japanese advertising in publications. His comic career would officially begin in 1934. In just one year, he would become part of the anti-Japanese comic propaganda team."

"When he initially created Sanmao in 1935 his main goal was to convey the hardship of the Japanese aggression in China through the eyes of the children, especially orphans. He wanted to express his concern for the young victims, particularly the real orphans on the streets. Therefore, Sanmao became the symbol for those children."

"In the 1950s he worked for the Shanghai People's Fine Arts Publishing House, the Shanghai-based Liberation Daily and the Shanghai Youth and Children's Publishing House."

"The Sanmao comics were translated throughout his career and introduced to other countries. The character has also been the main attraction in a number of movies, cartoons and other forms of on stage theatricals."

"A public trial was held in 1997 in the First Intermediate People's Court of Shanghai to settle the lawsuit of who owned the rights to the Sanmao character and comics after the death of the author. The judgement was mostly in favour of the author's widow and children.

AA: This film is my first introduction to Chinese comics and the ancient manhua tradition behind it. Sanmao (Three Hairs), created by Zhang Leping in 1935, is one of the world's most popular and long-lived comics. The live action adaptation The Winter of Three Hairs directed by Zhao Ming and Yan Gong is shattering and unforgettable.

There is a child in a garbage bin like in Victims of Sin which we saw some days ago. The little boy is thrown into a world of cruelty and bullying. In brutal fights over territories children are reduced to violent animals. They fight over food found among garbage. Clothes are so worn that they slip to the ground. When Sanmao collects cigarette stumps they catch fire. Sanmao manages to join a clan of riksha helpers, but their tips are appropriated by the boss.

Like in Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan there is a war of all against all, and the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. This is also a society of extreme class differences and exploitation. In this film like in Lights of Ten Thousand Homes there is a scene where the poor protagonist returns a lost wallet and is badly beaten as a reward.

Sanmao is evicted also from an educational institute, "Children's Paradise", in a sequence with affinities with Los olvidados which Luis Buñuel released in Mexico in the following year.

In a huge children's parade the slogan is "Children are the future masters of our nations", but when beggar children want to join it they are expelled by policemen equipped with batons. The same is repeated when children form their own beggars' parade.

Everywhere Sanmao faces violence and bullying. He hears only angry and cruel words. When finally someone is kind and offers warm food and clothes, it turns out that they are a network of thieves and pickpockets. When Sanmao refuses to become one, he is arrested by them and has to go days without anything to eat. In this sequence there are echoes with the Fagin episodes of Oliver Twist.

I'm afraid that this film is more topical than ever in our world of today. The Winter of Three Hairs is a harrowing account of abandoned children and an extreme vision of marginalization and alienation. The world on display here is also similar to the one in which Charles Chaplin grew up. At times Three Hairs is like a stranger from outer space in a hostile world.

The visual quality is often good in this film print of a French release version.

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