The Good Earth Reviews
it is a story about wang lung the farmer(paul muni), who marries a slavegirl in the big house named o-lan. and together they strive for their rocky future with mettle with their conventional chinese virtues. they've been thru harvest prosperity, drought, famine and the revolution of republic china as well as wang's illict affair with courtesan lotus.
mostly it depicts the condescending perspect of man's derogatory viewpoint on women which is actually true in ancient china, and women are merely usable products who help men to plow the rice fields and bring them extensions. without that, a woman could be considered worthless, and the dichotomy of benevolent saint and malevolent siren reflects on the two major female characters: o-lan, the slavegirl turning to the farmer's wife; lotus, the insidious temptress who drains men's wealth. eventually the conclusion would be good woman is like earth which provides everything with endless flourishments.
the earliest chinese star then anna may wong was keen to obtain the role of virtuous o-lan to alter her dreary image of malicious sirens in a bunch of negative orient-themed movies where she has to die "a thousand times" in the end. but the studio refuses to grant her that becuz of the racial segregation principle then: a caucasion male cannot make love or pair licitly with a oriental female on screen (so asian women are neither mistresses or villainy on screen), even as roles of yellow face. even the temptress lotus goes down to another actress with approved ethnicity despite the role lotus is literarily inspired by the oriental femme fatale image in wong's early silent pictures.
the point of making "the good earth" itself is a campy articce, so why bother to use a real chinese or not since the story won't present the real china anyway? as for anna may wong, she is thorough america-nourished american except her ethnicity, and she doesn't even conform to the corny chinese virtues of obediency or dependency on man anyway, further more she has never been with a chinese man for all her life at all. so in exclusion of her chinese outlook, there's not really any that much of traditional chineseness in her. so it won't be really a shame or a pity for her abscence as o-lan in this piece, but she would probably make an adequate lotus.
the title song for "the good earth" would be "the jasmine song" which has nothing to do with farming but a common folk song praising the beauty of jasmine flower in spite of its melodius smoothness. and in the scene of new infant birth, it's accompanied with the song celebrating the feng-yang drum which is my father's regional folk song in old china. so it would be highly phony to deem "the good earth" as a chinese epic, and even pearl s. buck who writes the original novel might have some bias for china. but it does bare some worthwhile process of collecting crops from the rice fields which i have never paid attention before. and the photography has its contrived oriental aesthetism under the helm of four directors, including victor fleming from "gone with the wind".
so allow me to put it this way, the pleasure of "good earth" would be the brass flatulency of vintage caucasion hollywood's eccentric perception on "the inscrutable orient". ABSOLUTE CAMP!
One of the greatest films from the 1930's. "The Good Earth" is a higly emotional and devestating look at the plight of Chinese farmers who battle a huge drought that forces them to leave their lands for life in the big city.
One drawback is that Hollywood wasn't ready to cast actual Chinese actors in the leads. Despite this Paul Muni and Luis Rainer (who won a Best Actress Oscar) give rare and poignant performances. Though they are not Chinese, the are able to capture the essense and heartbreaking souls of the characters.
For a film from 1937 the spectacular scene of the invading locusts is a true revelation and highly memorable.