Filmsite Movie Review
Broken Blossoms (1919)
Pages: (1) (2)
Plot Synopsis (continued)

The Spirit of Beauty breaks her blossoms all about his chamber.

Enamoured of the Girl and her blossoming "spirit of beauty," the Yellow Man follows her across the street while she is shopping. He attempts to catch another glimpse of her and be close to her without seeming too obvious.

Meanwhile, Battling Burrows has gone out to a local pub. He is found boozing and whoring there by his Fight Manager. The manager is "horrified to find Battling at it again." Burrows responds with his heavy accent: "Wot yer expect me to do - pick violets?"

At the shop, destitute "Lucy's starved heart aches for the flower - " a single flower which she can't afford. She gestures with her tin foil, suggesting a trade for the flower but it is "not quite enough tin foil." After Evil Eye makes advances toward Lucy, the Yellow Man breaks up their contact by stepping between them, caring enough to protect her fragility.

"The manager's protest against Burrow's dissipation sends him home in another rage." That afternoon, he projects his frustrated anger upon Lucy, claiming that she is late in serving him tea, but she objects: "Tain't five! Tain't five!" For her insolence, he pounds the table and frightens her. (The Yellow Man has secretly followed her home and learned where she lives.)

Burrows demands that Lucy prepare "his last meal before taking up training quarters across the river, for his return match with the Tiger." While serving the meal, she quickly fixes the forced smile upon her face, but then there is "the terrible accident" - she spills something hot on his hand, and realizes she is in grave danger. Her error causes her to freeze and tremble hysterically in front of her savage father. She fearfully grabs her sides, hoping to hold herself together, as though she might be able to avoid and escape the coming punishment by remaining still. He stalks toward her: "Pretend yer didn't do it on purpose! I'll learn yer!"

In the particularly shocking scene of her beating, Lucy's desperation mounts when she sees her father remove his whip from under the bed. She cringes, knowing that she is trapped:

Don't do it, Daddy! You'll hit me once too often - and then they'll - they'll hang yer!

And then she looks down at her father's shoes, thinking that the distracting ploy may save her from her father's blows.

Oh look! Daddy! Dust on yer boots!

She huddles down at his feet and wipes his boots with the hem of her dress. Wild and animalistic, he grabs her by the arm, flings her to the other side of the room, and begins striking her repeatedly with the lash. He rips the upper back of her dress to shreds and lacerates her arm. She is knocked unconscious. Lucy gathers up her energy and staggers to the door to escape her place of torment.

After dim aeons - dumbly, blindly, she struggles away from her house of suffering.

On the wharf, she drags herself along the same path she took to go shopping, just as the utterly-stoned Yellow Man returns to his shop "from tea and noodles...with perhaps a whiff of the lilied pipe still in his brain." Lucy stumbles and topples into the doorway of the Yellow Man's shop for refuge, and then collapses in a fetal position on the floor of the shop. When he sees her, she appears like an unreal vision to him - his tilted head, distant eyes and posture suggest that his brain is densely fogged by the drug and he struggles to make sense of the sight. And then she stirs slightly, and he rubs his eyes in disbelief.

When she awakens, he showers on her "the first gentleness she has ever known." She leans back against the shop counter, while the Yellow Man tenderly daubs her wounded arm with a wet cloth.

Oh, lily flowers and plum blossoms!
Oh silver streams and dim-starred skies!

He worships her, treating her as something to be cherished. Their eyes meet as he adoringly and prayerfully clasps his hands together in front of her. And then when his face draws too close (as if to kiss her), she does not retreat but slightly averts her eyes downward, not able to sustain the glance. In a single subtle moment, she communicates fear of closeness and a strong resolve to turn him away. He averts his face to the side, withdrawing from their moment of exotic intimacy.

With love in his heart, the Yellow Man carries her upstairs to his cramped room where he lives over the shop. She places her on his bed, and offers her sustenance - he makes his room a temple for her while nursing her back to health. "The room prepared as for a princess...A magical robe treasured from an olden day" becomes her new garb as he dresses her in Chinese silks. Responding to his warmth and kindness, something she has never known, "she seems transformed - into the dark chambers of her incredulous, frightened little heart comes warmth, and light." He adorns her hair with a pretty comb, realizing that she is a priceless, angelic beauty:

Blue and yellow silk caressing white skin - her beauty so long hidden shines out like a poem.

When she admires herself in a hand-held mirror, a delighted, coquettish smile begins to naturally appear on her face - without the use of her fingers.

The Yellow Man also offers her incense (which after smelling she refuses), and then a small vase of flowers - fulfilling her wish for a flower at the street shop. She claps her fists together with great pleasure, and removes one to admire. "He dreams her prattle, her bird-like ways, her sweet self - are all his own." Filmed in soft-focus next to her bed, his closed eyes inwardly imagine that they are one. She tentatively reaches out to him, and then gently strokes his cheek, asking:

What makes you so good to me, Chinky?

The next dramatically lyrical statement, reflected in a pantomimed, epiphanous scene, describes how the Yellow Man catches moonlight in his hands, brings the rays of light to her bedside and then showers them upon her. Regaining his sense of mission (which he had lost years earlier), he kneels religiously and prays at her bedside/shrine while she sleeps, ecstatically kissing and touching her hand with his face:

There he brings rays stolen from the lyric moon, and places them on her hair; and all night long he crouches, holding one grubby little hand.

"Breathing in an amber flute to this alabaster cockney girl her love name - White Blossom." As she eats, he entertains his idealized vision of a 'flower' by playing on his flute. Unfortunately, Lucy is spotted in the shop by the Spying One: "Now there is one, a friend of Battling's, having some business in the Yellow Man's shop." While the Yellow Man crosses the street to get change, the curious customer hears the sound of a plate breaking upstairs. He climbs the stairs to investigate and spies Lucy there.

"Across the river, where Battling is training for his fight before the munition workers, comes the Spying One." As Burrows is informed of what Lucy's whereabouts and what has happened, his protective/destructive 'parental' instincts - and racist hatred - take over:

Battling discovers parental rights - A Chink after his kid! He'll learn him!...Above all, Battling hates those not born in the same great country as himself.

Simultaneously, "the girl moves to go home - but decides to wait until tomorrow." In the pub, Burrows vows: "Wait till I'm through with this fight tonight - I'll get 'em."

As another token of his love for the girl, the Yellow Man gives her the shop window doll that she admired. For Lucy, the doll becomes a surrogate for the grateful love she cannot direct toward the Yellow Man. [Demonstrated love between the races, in a film at this time, was unthinkable.] In childish play, she girlishly moves the doll's arms and legs, and then maternally cradles the doll in her arms. The doll's extended right arm touches her cheek, causing the finger-smile.

At the contest fought in the prize-fighting ring, the crowd is composed of agitated 'munitions workers' who vicariously view and cheer the violence of the two brutish warriors. The fight is documentary-style, with Battling Burrows and his opponent battering each other in the center of the ring. After being fanned in their respective corners at the end of the first round, both fighters momentarily knock each other down, but they are able to get up and fight even more fiercely, sending the mindless crowd into a frenzy.

Meanwhile, juxtaposed with the fight scene, the Yellow Man again approaches toward Lucy. This time, in a menacing and ominous closeup - his ambiguous pose appears to convey passionate lust. She withdraws backward, recoiling as he approaches. And then he bows his head and reverently kisses the hem of her sleeve, as a sub-title interprets his "pure and holy" intentions:

His love remains a pure and holy thing - even his worst foe says this.

Burrows brutally knocks down his opponent, wins the contest and the accolades of the satisfied audience, dresses quickly, and stalks off through the streets to 'rescue' his child: "He goes to right his Honor - ?" The next title predicts: "The lowering storm." When the Yellow Man temporarily leaves his shop to buy Lucy some flowers, Burrows enters the shop to reclaim her and discovers his daughter upstairs in what he believes is a love nest. In a rage as he pounds his fist, he tells her: "You! With a dirty Chink!" In another terrifying closeup, similar to the menacing one of the Yellow Man's gaze, he approaches with fury in his eyes. She cries back:

Lucy: 'Tain't nothin' wrong! 'Tain't nothing wrong! I fell down in the doorway and - it wasn't nothin' wrong!
Burrows: I'll learn yer! I'll learn yer!

He tears off some of her silky clothes and orders her from her bed onto the floor, commanding: "Take them things off!" She cringes away from him as she changes back into her rags. "The cloaking river mist" envelopes the dockside area. He destroys the Yellow Man's upstairs shrine (for the beloved Lucy) by smashing most of the furniture. Evil Eye brings news of the discovery to the Yellow Man at the flower shop. In terror and panic, Lucy ducks from her father as he vandalizes the room and threatens: "Where is he?" As she runs away from him, she is caught and then dragged home through the foggy streets. She still clutches onto her doll.

When the Yellow Man discovers the scene of wreckage and disarray in his home, he is anguished and despairing that his "White Blossom" is gone. He holds up the silken cloth that was ripped from her body, and then collapses in a heap on the floor. He cries hysterically for his lost love.

In a violent showdown, Burrows reaches for his whip as she cries: "Don't! Daddy! It wasn't nothin' wrong." The 'closet scene,' the most memorable one in the film, is raw - with virtuoso acting and emotion. Lucy escapes from her father's clutches and hides herself in a small, locked closet in the hovel. It is a claustrophobic, contained and tightly-circumscribed space. As her father threatens: "Open, I tell yer!" she presses herself against the closet wall in a panic, and gnaws on her own hand like a trapped animal. (With intercutting, The Yellow Man thrashes himself on the floor, clutching Lucy's torn silk robe to his face. He vows revenge, reaches for a gun, and proceeds toward Lucy's home.) Clutching her doll for her only comfort, Lucy frantically cries out to her savage father:

Don't Daddy! - Don't! THEY'LL HANG YER!

As he begins to smash down the closet door with an axe, she whirls and spins around and around, pathetically out of control and in a state of suffering terror in her imprisoned space. She begins to emit full, open-mouthed, helpless screams. Burrows violates the space and breaks through the door, sending wood splinters everywhere. As he rips through the door to make the opening wider, she crouches down. But he pulls her through the opening, symbolically raping her space by bringing her back into the other room.

Burrows throws her on the bed, and then taps her head with the phallic-like whip handle, a prelude to the final blows that crush her skull (after the camera iris quickly closes). Lucy is left alone to die on the bed, as Burrows goes to another room and begins drinking. In her death scene, Lucy succumbs on her pillow while clutching her doll (her link to the Yellow Man) and giving a final finger-smile (her link to her father):

Dying, she gives her last little smile to the world that has been so unkind.

Arriving too late, the Yellow Man finds Lucy's dead body. Standing next to an illustration of prizefighters hanging on the wall, the Yellow Man confronts and faces down the brute and empties his gun of bullets into him - killing him. Then he carries and returns the body of his beloved Lucy through the misty streets to her shrine/altar in his room. He positions her hands and doll on her chest in a peaceful posture - in the only place she had ever known peace. He again drapes her silky robe over her.

When the discovery of Burrows' body is reported to the constable, a policeman reading the headlines of the paper at the station apathetically comments on the statistical casualties of trench warfare: "Better than last week - Only forty thousand casualties."

By her bedside in the tragic last scene, the Yellow Man assembles more icons from their love as he venerates her with a bouquet of flowers that he had bought for her (but never been able to deliver), burning incense, an altar, and a small temple bell.

As he smiles goodbye to White Blossom, all the tears of the ages rush over his heart.

He kneels by her side, half-smiles, tilts his head, and then passionately consecrates his life to her by committing suicide. He plunges a knife into his chest. The authorities soon come to the door, to find him watching over her in death. The final images recall the earliest ones in the film - the ringing of the temple bell and the movement of ships into the Chinese harbor. The Buddhist Chinese peace emissary finds his mission of peace completed.

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