This screening is held at National Gallery of Art, East Building, large auditorium.
Live musical accompaniment by Andrew Simpson
In 1927, Chinese film pioneer Dan Duyu and his wife (and leading lady) Yin Mingzhu made what is believed to be the first screen adaptation of Journey to the West. This sixteenth-century novel allegorizes the seventh-century Buddhist monk Xuanzang and his epic journey to India to procure Buddhist scriptures, passing through Dunhuang on his way back to China. Dan’s rendition of an episode from the tale was a box-office hit. The film’s success spawned a sequel and recast a Chinese literary classic into fantastical cinema. Close to ninety years later, the story endures in myriad retellings as movies, television programs, “webisodes,” and video games.
The Cave of the Silken Web was thought to be lost until a nitrate print was discovered in the National Library of Norway in 2011. Though the beginning and a reel in the middle are missing, the 2012 preservation of Cave brings to spellbinding life many visual delights: vivid color tinting, ingenious special effects, and inventive costumes and sets.
Cave retains Journey’s melange of Buddhist and Daoist spiritualism, folklore, action, and comic humor while pitting a supremely helpless Xuanzang against the driving force of female martial prowess. Disguised as beautiful maidens, a bevy of spider demons entrap the pious monk in their silken lair. A bite of his flesh will grant them immortality, while the spider queen, played with beguiling modernity by silent star Yin, readies him for forced nuptials. It falls to his three disciples—Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, charged by the bodhisattva Guanyin—to protect Xuanzang on his journey westward, using magic, acrobatics, and fire to outwit the seductively supernatural femmes.
Description by Cheng-sim Lim. English translation of the intertitles used with the permission of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival. (Dir.: Dan Duyu, China, 1927, 60 min., DCP, B&W, silent with Chinese, Norwegian, and English intertitles)
Image c/o National Library of Norway