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Java Head is a 1934 British black-and-white drama film. It is an adaptation of a little known novel by Josef Hergesheimer, and a remake of a silent film from 1923 (which is now considered lost).

Java Head refers to the house belonging to the Ammidons - a wealthy Bristol family of merchants. They are at odds with the Dunsack family - due to a long standing feud between the respective grandfathers. This proves problematic, as Gerrit Ammidon seems to have an attraction to Nettie Vollar, the family's granddaughter. After being warned off by Nettie's grandfather, Gerrit departs for a year long voyage. When he returns, he's married a Chinese noblewoman called Taou Yuen.

The film is notable for featuring the only time Anna May Wong was allowed to kiss her white co-star on screen.

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Tropes:

  • Adorably Precocious Child: Laurel is prone to speaking out of turn, and imitating Taou Yuen in ways that would be considered impolite (though the latter finds her endearing).
  • All of the Other Reindeer: Nettie is shunned by the locals for her mother's 'shame'.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: For someone who was involved in a nasty collision with a runaway carriage, Nettie looks great. No bruises, broken bones or even a hair out of place.
  • Big Eater: In half of Laurel's early scenes, she's either being offered cake or told to stop eating it.
  • Broken Aesop: The movie seems like it's giving An Aesop about respecting different cultures and traditions, which is utterly broken by having Taou Yuen first try to kill Nettie and then suicide in order to facilitate a 'happy' ending for Gerrit and Nettie.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The opium that Nettie is on after her accident features heavily in the climax.
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    • Jeremy has a couple of early scenes where he experiences mild chest pains, foreshadowing his eventual death by heart attack.
  • Costume Porn: Anna May Wong wears a splendid Chinese dress in almost every scene, as befitting a princess.
  • Culture Clash: Gerrit's Chinese wife and her Buddhist traditions clash with the Christianity of the locals.
  • Death of the Hypotenuse: Taou Yuen seems like she's prepared to strangle Nettie when she's interrupted by Edward. She then takes poison to kill herself.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Taou Yuen reads a story from a Chinese folk tale about a man who loved two women and made them both his wives, asking Gerrit if that would be possible in England. When he replies that he could only love one woman at a time, she understands it as "one love would die, and the other grow stronger".
  • Disappeared Dad: Nettie's is nowhere to be seen.
  • Dragon Lady: Taou Yuen briefly slips into this persona as she prepares to strangle Nettie.
  • The Fundamentalist: Nettie's grandfather Bazil is a bible thumper who forbids her and her mother to have any fun. It makes more sense when you learn he was a Puritan in the original novel.
  • Good Shepherd: The local vicar is very kind to Taou Yuen and is excited to discuss Confucianism with her.
  • Good-Times Montage: Nettie decides to rebel against her grandfather and we are shown a montage of her enjoying the celebrations for the Queen's birthday.
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Lots of 19th century finery on display in most scenes.
  • Gossipy Hens:
    • Several saying unkind things about Nettie and Gerrit's friendship at the start.
    • And again spreading the news of Gerrit's marriage when he returns.
  • Gratuitous Princess: Tao Yuen being a princess doesn't necessarily serve the plot in any way.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Jeremy dies of one instantly from discovering William's opium deals.
  • Like Goes with Like: A Love Triangle between a white merchant, his white childhood friend and an Asian princess. Guess who's the Romantic False Lead.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: Gerrit is a wealthy Bristol merchant who marries a Chinese woman. The disadvantaged part of the trope is averted, as Taou Yuen is a princess and presented as an equal match for everyone else's intelligence.
  • Misplaced Accent:
    • Taou Yuen is a Chinese noblewoman that speaks with a mid-Atlantic accent. Her actress Anna May Wong was born in California and had vocal training to get rid of her American accent.
    • The film is set in Bristol but none of the characters speak with the appropriate accents. Everyone speaks heightened RP.
  • Moment Killer: A positive example. Laurel interrupts Edward's harassment of Taou Yuen by walking into the room wearing her make-up.
  • Morality Pet: Young Laurel accepts her uncle's new wife instantly, taking an interest in her make-up and even happily talking about how lucky she is to be the only girl in Bristol with a Chinese aunt.
  • Race Fetish: Edward Dunsack has one for Chinese women and makes several unwanted advances on Taou Yuen.
  • Relationship Sabotage: Edward tries this to ostensibly have Taou Yuen for himself, ignoring that she wants nothing to do with him.
  • Rich Suitor, Poor Suitor: Gerrit has a wife who's a Chinese princess, and also a more modest Bristol love interest who is disgraced for having an unmarried mother.
  • Setting Update: The novel was set in Salem, Massachusetts but the film updates it to Victorian Bristol.
  • Shrinking Violet: Nettie as a result of her grandfather's conservative teachings.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Taou Yuen is a polite and dutiful wife, but show herself to be very strong and brave - turning down Edward's advances and remaining calm when the horses have an accident.
  • Surprisingly Good English: Taou Yuen speaks perfect English, which makes sense once she's retroactively revealed to be a princess.
  • Yellow Peril: Present, if extremely downplayed. Edward's opium addiction and desire for Taou Yuen could be interpreted as an example of how China 'corrupts' people.
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