The Big Road

dir. Sun Yu

TIFF Cinematheque - Retrospective

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This big-hearted classic of the 1930s progressive film movement chronicles the efforts of six young, patriotic and unemployed city men as they build a highway to aid the anti-Japanese war effort.

ARCHIVAL PRINT!

A big-hearted classic of the 1930s progressive film movement, The Big Road (also known as The Highway) chronicles the efforts of six young, patriotic and unemployed city men building a highway to aid the anti-Japanese war effort. Among the many major achievements of Second Generation master Sun Yu, the film is also an early and mesmerizing experiment in sound design: as Paul Clark explains, "the silence of the film is broken by songs, particularly the road-making songs, which the workers sing together, and by a curious device, a series of percussion sounds, when one of the four men playfully taps the nose, chest and forehead of a gang comrade." (This unabashed physical intimacy extends to a surprising nude bathing scene with the men, following some fairly raw talk from two women who are following the road crew's progress.) Wearing its patriotism on its sleeve, The Big Road emphasizes the necessity of presenting a united front against the Japanese invaders; the only real villain is a Chinese collaborator who kidnaps two of the men to impede the highway's progress. The film's insistence on identifying class enemies reveals a darker side of this otherwise effusive and joyous work.