Like the masterpiece of Chinese animation, THE MONKEY KING / DA NAO TIAN GONG / 大闹天宫 / 大鬧天宮 (1961, by Wan Lai-ming and his brothers), PAN SI DONG / THE SPIDER CAVE is based on The Journey to the West, the classic novel on the pilgrimage of the monk Xuanzang to India during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). He has three disciples, Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy, plus a fourth character, the Dragon prince, who has taken the form of a white horse and carries Zuanzang. (Formulations adapted from The Chinese Mirror. A Journal of Chinese Film History).
This film is based on events in chapters 23-86 of the novel, including the land of women and spider spirits. Memorable images include views of a banquet being prepared in the cave, metamorphoses into spiders, the web of love, the cleansing fire, and "all threads of loveburned - such is life". Nude bath scenes of the original film have been cut.
I have seen Chinese silent films before, including ones starring the legendary Ruan Lingyu, but this one is different.
THE SPIDER CAVE is a religious film, a fantasyfilm, a fairy-tale film, perhaps an erotic film, but not in the cut print we saw, and a film with affinities with Shanghai Opera. It is often charming, attimes amateurish, even resembling a home movie or a student romp. There is a sense of filmed theatre, yet also of true inspiration. We are at the origins of a film tradition which continued later with the Shaw Brothers (who remade this as THE CAVE OF THE SILKEN WEB) and others but in the 1930s the budding tradition was cut short with the tightening of censorship.
A great treasure has been brought back to life.
Antti Alanen, anttialanenfilmdiary.blogspot.com, 7.10.2014