Directed by D. W. Griffith • 1919 • United States
Starring Lillian Gish, Richard Barthelmess, Donald Crisp
Introduction: This film has been programmed as part of the series Hollywood Chinese, a survey on the history of Chinese representation in American cinema, curated by filmmaker Arthur Dong. He notes: “In BROKEN BLOSSOMS, produced after his controversial film about the Klu Klux Klan, THE BIRTH OF A NATION, D.W. Griffith attempts to shed light on intolerance against the Chinese, albeit with yellowfaced white actors and a script infused with racial slurs and stereotypic tropes.” For further context, we recommend watching Mr. Dong’s series introduction and his documentary HOLLYWOOD CHINESE, now playing on the Channel.
D. W. Griffith reached a new pinnacle of silent-film expressiveness with this tender yet tragic tale of love and suffering in the seedy Limehouse district of London. In the most heartrending performance of her career, Lillian Gish plays fifteen-year-old street urchin Lucy Burrows, who longs to escape her miserable existence. Emotionally scarred by the torment and neglect of her abusive father (Donald Crisp), Lucy collapses in the shop of the lonely and disillusioned Chinese immigrant Cheng Huan (Richard Barthelmess). As Cheng tenderly nurses her back to health, an unspoken romance flowers between the two, awakening in each of them feelings of love they thought themselves forever denied.