China's first sound-on-film talkie, made for the covert communist company Denton (Diantong), offers a grim picture of the fate awaiting honest job-seekers in the Shanghai of the mid-'30s. Tao (Yuan) graduates, marries Li (Chen) and takes a prime white-collar job with a shipping company. But he quits rather than endanger life by knowingly overloading a ship, and then finds himself on a downward slope which eventually reduces him to labouring in a metal foundry. Meanwhile, his wife becomes a secretary but quits after her boss (Zhou) tricks her to a hotel and tries to rape her. Told in flashback from Death Row, where Tao awaits execution for murder, this is unremittingly pessimistic. But the director and lead actor (both first-timers) were huge talents, and their skills make for a compulsive, even enjoyable movie. The sequence in which Tao scours four floors of the Taishan Hotel for his missing wife, shot with an amazingly mobile camera, is a classic.
Cast and crew