Lost Chinese Silent Film “The Cave of the Silken Web” Found and Returned

Photo courtesy of the National Library of Norway.
The 1927 film was long thought lost until 2011. The film screens at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on May 29.

An old silent film from the Golden Age of Chinese cinema made the headlines last April when a nitrocellulose print of The Cave of Silken Web (1927) was finally returned to China from Norway. The film, long thought lost to the times, was discovered in Norway’s national library in 2011. The discovery of this rare film is a cause for celebration for many, as few Chinese films produced from the 1920’s to the 1930’s have survived the Cultural Revolution, leaving a dearth of films from what was considered the Golden Age of Chinese film.

The Cave of Silken Web (also called The Cave of the Spiderwomen and Pan si dong) had a Norwegian premiere in Oslo on January 1929, showcasing the influence and growth of the film industry in China during this era. Given the current tensions between Norway and China, due to the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo in 2010, the return of the film can be seen as a move to improve diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Running a little over an hour, the film, directed by Dan Duyu, is the first known cinematic adaptation of the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. The silent feature adapts one of the more well-known episodes of the classic epic, where the gluttonous Pigsy and the gullible Monk Xuanzang are lured into a trap by a group of seemingly beautiful maidens who actually turn out to be cave-dwelling, hungry spider-demons with a palette for human flesh. The film has a rather slow start but once Pigsy and the Monkey King enter the picture, the film picks up and becomes a fun and fast-paced flick.

—Nancy Nguyen

Cave of the Spiderwomen at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival


May 29 at 1:00 pm | Castro Theatre San Francisco
Ticket price: $16 general/$14 member
Directed by Dan Duyu, China, 1927, 60 m. (Pan si dong)
With Yin Mingzhu, He Rongzhu, Dan Erchun
Cave’s story comes from a classic of Chinese literature involving a pilgrim monk and his followers—monkey, pig, and shark spirit—who ward off the notorious Spider Queen. The film set 1927 box-office records but was considered lost until its recent discovery and restoration by the National Library of Norway. The director’s granddaughter will attend the screening.

Plus: MODERN CHINA (China, 1910, 8 m.)
Extraordinary views of life and landscape in Beijing, filmed during the last years of China’s Qing dynasty, before the 1911 Xinhai Revolution overthrew imperial rule. The focus is on everyday life, and the views of hawkers, laborers, traders, and artisans reveal the city’s vibrant street culture. US Premiere of BFI restoration.

Live musical accompaniment by Donald Sosin and Frank Bockius
Donald Sosin scores silent films for major festivals, archives, and DVD recordings and is the resident accompanist at New York’s Film Society of Lincoln Center, the Museum of the Moving Image, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Versatile percussionist Frank Bockius will join Sosin for this program.

Book Signing
UC Berkeley Professor Weihong Bao will sign her new book, Fiery Cinema, following the screening.

Tickets can be purchased here.

An earlier version of this stated that the film was returned to China last month; it was April 2014.