Just before the Japanese began bombing Shanghai in 1932 in their war with China, the city was already disintegrating. This story is about a struggling shopkeeper trying to survive as the war and corruption rapidly increase. The Lin family runs a general store in the city, but because they have to pay off city bosses and bear the brunt of high interest rates on bank loans, the once well-off family is constantly teetering on the verge of bankruptcy. Neighborhood merchants are anything but supportive, and the final blow comes when a morally defunct military officer demands Lin's teenage daughter in exchange for "protection" of his shop. The growing family tensions are mirrored by tensions in the city, until it is inevitable that something is going to happen. In the revised Chinese critics' version of this film, Lin uses extortion and intimidation to obtain banned Japanese goods to sell, and to force his competitors out of business. When Lin must eventually leave his store, he takes all his customers' money that was left on deposit with him. Why two different viewpoints on the moral qualities of Mr. Lin? Because this movie was banned in China until 1984 and the Chinese critics had to tow the party line when they reviewed the film.
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