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This was a very unusual movie, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nils Asther plays an odd but elegant General, and the interracial romance between Asther and Barbara Stanwyck is both mesmerizing and erotic, without even having more than a dreamy kiss. Since the film was done before the censors, the dream sequence that Stanwyck has is incredibly edgy, loaded with racial stereotypes yet enthralling. Supporting actors of Connolly and Mori were also very well done. All in all, this was an excellent movie and I'm glad to have stumbled upon it.
Usually 1930s Hollywood would flirt with interracial jungle love with some strapping Midwestern and shirtless sailor type seduced by some steamy unclothed island princess, but here for a change the formula is flipped. In war torn China a good girl (Barbara Stanwyck? Yep.) has her virginity (Barbara Stanwyck?! Yep.) tempted by a "despicable yellow swine" (hey! It's in the script!), who's revealed to be an actual good guy. Of course. It's better than it sounds, and there's a pretty cool dream sequence in the middle of it that's better than the whole rest of the movie. Look for it.
Breathtakingly creative with an uneven script, The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a film unlike any other. Directed by Frank Capra with a strong leading performance from Barbara Stanwyck.
It's the '30's, back when America was great again ... not. There was a Hooverian Republican Party induced Great Depression bankrupting the masses and stereotypes & Oriental clichés abounded - and are filmed here by Capra through thick lens diffusion. The lead Chinese, the General, is the Chinese equivalent of Black Face. But, for the times, the story, by a woman, is daring, however improbable, and performed on sumptious sets for the new Columbia. So, it's definitely worth a look ... to see where we've been and how far we've not come in the Trumplican era.
The weird thing is, the mindset of Chinese people hadn't changed much after more than 100 years, so does their behaviour. Barbara Stanwyck looks glamarous here.
Who knew Frank Capra had it in him? You know him for doing stuff like "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". This is a dark, tragic strange love story between a white Christian missionary woman and genocidal Chinese general (played in yellow face by a white actor). The politically correct among us might not get past the of-its-time blatant racism of the film. However in its own strange way, it is also kind of daring, humane and even sort of progressive. It manages to be a heartbreaking, moving love story in its own really odd way. I know it's not a popular opinion but this might be my favorite Frank Capra film to date.
Jones (Walter Connolly): "Yen was crazy. He said we never really die... we only change. He was nuts about cherry trees. Well, maybe he's a cherry tree now. Maybe he's the wind that's pushing that sail. Maybe he's the wind that's playing around in your hair. Ah... its all a lot of hooey! I'm drunk. Just the same... I hope when I cool off, the guy that changes me sends me where Yen is... and I bet I'll find you there, too."
It's fairly disappointing that the lead was played by a non-Asian actor but one must realize how old this film was and it is ground-breaking enough that the story revolves around a bi-racial love affair, so I guess I can give this film an A for effort, at the very least. Barbara Stanwyck was gorgeous and was an awesome protagonist; she was very Jane Eyre in her belief and moral code, which made her such an interesting heroine. Nils Aster, played General Yen well and gave credibility to the character. Also being such an obvious antagonist in the beginning, he does show that we can sympathize with the character; that he's not a complete monster as Megan initially thought, nor as Mah-Li seemed to portray him. He's just different and although his methods seemed barbaric, they are not without merit and within the context of his surroundings, made absolute sense. Walter Connolly's Jones was the most perplexing character of them all because he seemed like a stereotypical villain at first but ends up being some kind of Jiminy-Cricket-esque, sage-like, voice-of-reason. I think the boat-ride home with Jones talking to a silent Megan was the best scene in the entire film and was worth sitting through the whole movie. This was a uniquely engaging film and I can honestly say, there might not be another one like it, 'The King and I' comes to mind but this film was a little odder, in a good way.
Quite a beautiful film visually and the story is much darker than the norm from this age. Stanwyck's Megan is a real powerhouse to start with, but slowly but surely becomes a sappy mess. Nils Astor is an odd choice. Another peg in Hollywood Asian racism? Possibly. The film has Asian actors in supporting roles (Toshia Mori as the double-crossing Mah-Li is particularly fine), so why cast a Dane as the General and cover him in distracting make-up that makes him look very creepy and monstrous?
It's an odd story with bizarre character arcs. I didn't find anyone particularly sympathetic and the plot was quite ancillary. Left me a touch bored.
The very American Moral vehicle for Frank Capra and all in all not a bad film at all.
The simple story of Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) a missionary caught up in Shanghai's Civil War & her capture and somewhat forced time at General Yen fortress.
Basically a film presenting two very different moral & traditions and there difficulty understanding each other etc.
An interesting film in parts but a little static in other ending was a little flat but both performances of General Yen & Megan Davies was great.
Bitter Tea of General Yen is an excellent film. It is about the American missionary Megan Davis arrives in Shanghai during the Chinese Civil War to marry the missionary Dr. Robert Strife. Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther give amazing performances. The screenplay is well written. There were beautiful costumes, impressive sets, and convincing battle scenes. Frank Capra did a great job directing this movie. I enjoyed watching this motion picture of the drama and romance. Bitter Tea of General Yen is a must see.