Cai Chusheng - Ceaseless Explorer of Film Arts
Directors of the second generation were mainly active in the 1930s and 1940s, with some still working even in the 1980s. These include Cheng Bugao, Shen Xiling, Cai Chusheng, Shi Dongshan, Fei Mu, Sun Yu, Yuan Muzhi, Ying Yunwei, Chen Liting, Zheng Junli, Wu Yonggang, Shen Fu, Tang Xiaodan, Zhang Junxiang, and Sang Hu. Judging from the ideological content of Chinese cinema, the greatest achievement made by the second-generation directors was that they began in a true manner to free their works from the sole pursuit of amusement, to reflect social life in a profound way, and to play a social function through entertainment. In the techniques of art, one of the most outstanding characteristics of these directors was that they preferred realism. They paid attention to combining a realistic approach with cinematography and gradually grasped the basic law of the art. Although they had a strong sense of drama, they gradually freed themselves from the limits of the stage and began to give full play to the strong points of the cinematographic art. In the treatment of the plot, dramatic conflicts, and stylization, they strove intensely to keep the audience in suspense. It can be said that beginning with the directors of the second generation, Chinese cinema showed its unique value.
Cai Chusheng (1906-1965) traversed a road of realism with Chinese characteristics. Most of the films he produced and directed reveal the social contradictions of modern China in a penetrating way, condemn the old society and the corruption of the ruling class, show the heart of the masses, and called for the arrival of liberation. His films had clear-cut artistic characteristics, complicated and moving plots, and detailed portrayals of the characters. Well knit and rich in connotation, they showed various aspects of the traditional ethics of the Chinese nation.
The Life of Fishermen created the highest box-office record in the 1930s and The Spring River Flows East(co-directed with Zheng Junli) created the highest box-office record in the 1940s.The Spring River Flows East in particular shows Cai Chusheng's skill at praising the true, the good, and the beautiful and his lashing out at the false, the evil, and the ugly by means of comparison and other cinema-to-graphic techniques and according to the aesthetic demands and standards of appreciation of the audience. This epic film has a broad social background, a great variety of events, many characters with complicated relations, and a long time span. But the film features a clear, logical arrangement of events to keep the beginning and the end in unity and coherence, leaving no lapses in the change of time.
This was a fine artistic effect achieved by Cai with his skilful application of the traditional Chinese techniques of artistic expression. He also adopted a technique often seen in traditional Chinese novels, where each chapter is headed by a couplet giving the gist of its content, or the techniques used in opera to unfold the plot, all combined with interlacing and comparison by the use of montage, to achieve a change of scenes within the same time span and the development of the plot step by step till the film reaches its climax and conclusion. All the works written and directed by him were very much welcomed by Chinese audiences and still hold an important position in the annals of Chinese cinema.