"Cloud float across the sky, fish are swimming in the water. The sun dries the fishing nets in the morning. Wind blows against my face. The tides are turning, the waves are rising, fishing boats setting sail in all directions. cast the net, cast the net. It's hard to catch fish when the weather is bad. Fishing is difficult and rents need to be paid. Fishermen are poor from generation to generation. The old fishing net my grandfather gave me, it gives us a living through the winter" (song starts at 36' into the movie.) . Schubert fans will recognize the gentle rocking lines, like the movement of a boat being rowed along the water. The Ave Maria soundtrack was added later.
Beautiful shots of of fishing junks, on a wide river.... "The East Sea was beautiful: poets praised it, fishermen scraped a living". Cut to a shot of a bucket breaking ice to draw water to heat on a fire. In this hard winter, a woman gives birth to twins. The family are so poor that it's not a time for rejoicing. But notice how lovingly the humble hovel is filmed: details like the grain on boards of wood are shot in clear focus. The father gets killed at sea, the mother is forced to work as a wet nurse for rich people, while her own babies starve. The boy she nurses loves her though, and later sneaks off to play on the beach with the twins, Little Cat (Wang Ren Mei) and Little Monkey (Han Lan Gen 韩兰根), a wonderful character actor with a distinctive "crying face" that lent itself to comedy while heartbreakingly sad, In this film, Little Monkey is retarded, as so many were in days before good health care, Han grimaces and jerks his limbs like he's spastic: perhaps observed from real life. His sister can sing the Song of the Fishermen better than anyone else, so she sings it to comfort him.
When the kids grow up the rich man's son gets sent overseas to learn the maritime business. His family move to Shanghai and invest. Little Cat and Little Monkey can't make a living at sea so they, too drift to Shanghai in search of work. The Director, Cai Chusheng (1906-1968, 蔡楚生), shows a long sequence outside factory gates where the unemployed queue desperately for a chance at a job, as well shot as any European film of the time. (qv Kuhle Wampe). The previous year Cai had directed New Women (with Ruan Lingyu with whom he's supposedly had an affair). Cai came from ShunTak, upriver from Macau, a Cantonese like Ruan, both migrants to Shanghai like millions of others. Cai was an enlightened liberal, so Song of The Fisherman, New Women and The Spring River flows East (1947) depict strong women.