The Good Earth

I remember watching this movie a long time ago when I was a preteen. So the other day when I saw it at the library, I had to grab it. It is the story of a farmer, Wang Lung, and his wife O-lan, in China near the time of the Xinhai Revolution.

The farmer starts out with just a small piece of land inherited from his father. His father secures him a wife from a great house nearby, a kitchen-slave-woman. She is extremely meek and almost never talks. The farmer though shows her much more respect than she expects. The film follows the growth of their relationship and the farmer's career. The farmer purchases more and more land, though for a while they must go south in the face of famine. While they are in a city in the south, the revolution begins, and while participating in a massive looting the wife finds some jewels. She brings them back to the farmer and they return north to their land. They become very wealthy. So much so that the farmer gets a second wife (!). But in the end, that new wife cheats on him (with his son!) and he sends her away. Finally Wang Lung respects and loves his O-lan again.

It is a very nice story, told slowly as in most movies of this age, but sweetly. One interesting thing is that the main stars (Luise Rainer and Paul Muni) of the film are very obviously not Chinese or even Asian. They have some poor eye makeup that may have fooled folks in 1937. But now it was almost humorous and slightly embarrassing that there was a time we didn't feel we could cast an ethnic actor in a starring role.

Also read "What's So Bad About the Good Earth?"

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