A restorer at the China Film Archive works on footage of actress Gong Li's 1988 classic Red Sorghum.(Photo/Courtesy of the China Film Archive)
Every museum has its star attraction. For the China Film Archive, the largest of its kind in the country, its most prized possession is the set of reels of Laborer's Love, a silent movie shot more than a century ago that is considered the earliest complete film still capable of being screened in China.
Under the helm of Zhang Shichuan, a prolific director who produced in excess of 150 films, the 22-minute tale also known as Romance of a Fruit Peddler tells the story of a carpenter who falls in love with a doctor's daughter and his efforts to overcome the class differences and win recognition from his future father-in-law.
The reels of the movie have been preserved in Xi'an, capital of Northwest China's Shaanxi province, in one of the two vaults constructed by the China Film Archive to store vintage reels of classic movies and documentaries. These reels constitute the century-long history of Chinese cinema and record the vicissitudes of social change.
As some of the old reels are made of flammable cellulose nitrate films, which could quickly burst into flames if they are not handled properly, the two vaults — with the other located in eastern Beijing — have maintained their in-house temperature of between — 1 C and 5 C as well as maintaining humidity around 40 percent.