#72 The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

The last film that we saw that showed a multi-racial romance was in Broken Blossoms between a caucasian woman and a China man. This film is similar in that way but explores the ideology of Chinese and American ways. Frank Capra’s The Bitter Tea of General Yen is about a Christian missionary who falls in love with a Chinese warlord during the Chinese Civil War.

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This is an example of a film that wasn’t ready for the audience of its time period. Since Chinese actors were not allowed to play leads in American films, Swedish actor Nils Asther would have to yellowface himself as well as squinty eye makeup. By today’s standards, there would be riots, protests, backlash. While it may not have been that extreme during its release, it did face a low box office. Not necessarily for the racism but just the idea of the romance between a white woman and a Chinese man. This backlash is what strayed Frank Capra from doing anymore melodramas but stuck with comedies and inspiring films such as “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.”

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The big mystery behind this film is why exactly these two people are attracted to each other. Maybe you can use the old “opposites attract” excuse or to delve into the challenge of being with someone society wouldn’t accept. Do you know why? The point is that the romance between the two is as clear as the character of Megan’s dream of her hero being the Chinese warlord himself instead of her Christian fiancee. These two have different ways of thinking in which Megan believes in always doing what G-d expects whereas General Yen’s views are more radical. When Megan convinces General Yen to forgive the mistress that betrayed him, things take a tragic turn for the worst instead of better. Sometimes a person can walk into your life and be the best and worst thing that happens to you. I love the soft tints and the lighting that shows both the gentle tone of the story and the beauty in Barbara Stanwyck, an actress who doesn’t shy away from tough persona roles. This film may have been forgotten a long time ago but it will be remembered today.

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a copy anywhere so here’s a fan-made trailer that gives you the general idea of the film:

 

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One thought on “#72 The Bitter Tea of General Yen (1933)

  1. Pingback: #83 It Happened One Night (1934) – 1001 Films in 365 Days

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