The first thing is for me to tell you that this poster is quite misleading.
This movie was made in 1919 by the amazing DW Griffith. It was taken from a group of stories about Limehouse Nights. This particular story/poem was called "The Chink & the Child"
It is about a Chinamen, Cheng (Richard Barthelmess) who travels to London to spread the peace of Buddha. He ends up working in a shop there. He comes to notice a young girl, Lucy (Lillian Gish), a waif if ever there was one. Her "father" is a boxer called Battling Burrows (Donald Crisp) with a sadistic attitude, and poor Lucy is his punching bag most of the time. After a particularly bad beating, the girl stumbles into Cheng's shop and he cares for her. Then trouble begins.
The thing I liked about this movie the most has to do with why the poster is misleading. There are no love scenes between Lucy and Cheng. Lucy is only 12 years old, and while Cheng loves her, it is in a strictly adorational way. Platonic really. It is as simple as he sees her, he helps her; he is the only person to be kind to her.
This film deals mostly with abuse and cruelty. The interesting thing to note is that you only see Lucy being physically abused once. With a whip, but everytime Burrows is near her, you share her fear of what he might do. Apparently it made the critics sick to watch this kind of thing. Griffith himself is said to have had trouble with the closet scene (which is kind of a pre-cursor to the bathroom scene in The Shining). Isn't it interesting how things like that used to bother us, but now we hardly notice it? Sad.
Acting wise - it's pretty good. I have a hard time judging silent film acting. Mostly because it is less realistic and more presentational. That aside, it is very effective. You fear for Lucy, you're scared of Burrows, and you feel for Cheng. Although I will say that the way they tried to make Barthelmess look like a Chinamen made him look high most of the time instead. Although, in some scenes that was appropraite.
Overall, it is an interesting movie, and certainly significant, especially for its time.
3 out of 5 stars