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Film / Broken Blossoms

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Broken Blossoms or the Yellow Man and the Girl is a 1919 film directed by D. W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish, a tale of love between a Chinese man and an English girl, and very different from the far better-known The Birth of a Nation. It's also notable as the first film released by United Artists.

Chen Huan (Richard Barthelmess), a young Chinese man leaves his native homeland for the shores of England, as a missionary hoping to spread the teachings of Buddha. However, London quickly chews him up and spits him back out again, and he finds himself running a shop and drifting through opium dens. However, a chance meeting with the young Lucy Burrows (Gish), the abused daughter of well known boxer Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp), leads the two of them to fall in love. But when her father finds out, their love quickly turns into tragedy.


This film is in the public domain and can be viewed in its entirety at Youtube (there are also purple-colored, yellow-colored or sepia-colored versions there).


  • Abusive Parents: Battling Burrows, who abuses Lucy both verbally and physically, and eventually kills her.
  • Actual Pacifist: Originally, Chen is one. He tries to stop two sailors from fighting, quoting The Golden Rule.
  • Age Lift: In the original short story, Lucy was twelve. For the film, her age has been upped to fifteen.
  • Alcoholic Parent: Battling Burrows.
  • Alliterative Name: Battling Burrows.
  • Alliterative Title: Broken Blossoms.
  • Almost Kiss: Twice, Chen leans in to kiss Lucy, but seeing her draw back refrains.
  • Axe Before Entering: After a desperate Lucy tries to hide from her father by locking herself in the closet, he chops the door down with a hatchet. The scene where a terrified Lucy bounces off the walls of the closet is one of the most memorable of Lillian Gish's career.
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  • Blood from the Mouth: Lucy after her last, fatal beating at the hands of Battling Burrows.
  • Break the Cutie: Chen and Lucy.
  • Broken Bird: Poor, poor Lucy.
  • Broken Smile: Lucy forces herself to smile like this several times, including while dying.
  • The Cavalry: Chen tries to be this, but arrives too late.
  • The Chain of Harm: Battling Burrows's manager berates him for his drinking and whoring. Since Burrows can't take his anger out on him, he "saves it for a weaker object" - Lucy.
  • Chastity Couple: Chen's love is "a pure and holy thing". Enforced, since, even though Chen is played by a white actor in yellowface, an interracial makeout session would have been too much for most people to take in 1919 America. And Lucy is only 15, after all.
  • Downer Ending: Chen fails to rescue Lucy from Battling Burrows, who beats her to death. Abandoning his pacifist beliefs, Chen shoots Burrows, then commits suicide.
  • Driven to Suicide: Chen at the end.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Chen visits opium dens because he's depressed.
  • Either/Or Title: Broken Blossoms or the Yellow Man and the Girl
  • Enter Stage Window: How Chen gets into Battling's apartment when he is trying to rescue Lucy.
  • The Film of the Book: Based on the Thomas Burke short story "The Chink and the Child"
  • Finger-Forced Smile: When Lucy is ordered to smile by her father, she pushes up the corners of her mouth with her fingers. Her life is so miserable that she never had a reason to smile for real.
  • Funetik Aksent: The intertitles are written this way when quoting the Cockney characters
  • The Golden Rule: At the beginning of the movie, Chen quotes this as a precept of the Buddha's to two white men who are fighting.
  • Go Out with a Smile: After being beaten up by her father, Lucy tries to force herself to smile one last time. Upon death, however, her smile relaxes and she dies with her eyes open.
  • Kill 'Em All: The three main characters all die.
  • May–December Romance: More like May-September, as Chen is still a young man.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Gender-inverted, even though Chen is played by a white actor.
  • Missing Mom: Lucy's mother, who simply handed her over to Battling Burrows as an infant, and never came back.
  • The Missionary: Chen tries to be a Buddhist missionary in England, but he fails. Nobody listens to him, and he becomes just another Chinese shopkeeper.
  • Offing the Offspring: Burrows beats Lucy to death.
  • Opium Den: Chen starts spending time in these after things go bad in London.
  • The Remake: The film received a British remake in 1936
  • Stalker with a Crush: Chen, though he's harmless.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Battling Burrows regularly beats Lucy with a whip.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Chen starts out as one, but he's quickly broken down by the world.
  • Yellowface: The Chinese characters are played by white actors.
  • Yellow Peril: Subverted, in that Chen is a decent and honorable person, and the villain of the film is the white Battling Burrows.