- The Cave of the Silken Web (1927) movie review: Long thought lost and reportedly a national blockbuster, filmmaker Dan Duyu’s silent Chinese fantasy adventure is currently available in incomplete form.
- But however fragmented – and hard to follow – the film’s storyline remains intriguing: Long before Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the adventure and suspense come largely courtesy of several powerful women.
The Cave of the Silken Web movie review: Missing segments make intriguingly female-focused, silent-era Chinese fantasy hard to follow
Due to its missing reels, I was at a loss trying to make any sense of the plot of Dan Duyu’s 1927 Chinese fantasy adventure The Cave of the Silken Web, a.k.a. The Cave of the Spider Women, screened at this year’s San Francisco Silent Film Festival.
The storyline – notable as (what’s supposed to be) the first (partial) adaptation of the classic 16th-century novel Journey to the West, attributed to Ming Dynasty writer-poet Wu Cheng’en – was quite a bit confusing, something the narration did little to remedy.
After a holy Buddhist monk (Jiang Meikang) goes searching for a sacred scroll, he gets trapped in a cave where the fierce and powerful female inhabitants force him to eat meat and take a bath with them.
Since I’m partial to silent film fantasies, I accepted the movie’s flights of fancy and went along with the ride. In fact, The Cave of the Silken Web reminded me of a matinee serial, what with all the unusual situations and quick action.
I especially liked the feminist twist, as all control and power belong to the women. Chief among these is the supreme villainess – the First Spider Spirit – played by Yin Mingzhu, the filmmaker’s wife and an important Chinese cinema name, as both actress and financier, from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s.
Accompanying The Cave of the Silken Web was the Beijing-set 1910 short Modern China, featuring scenes from the last years of the Qing dynasty.
Not only was the viewer taken away to a place on the other side of the globe, but also back more than 100 years in time.
And that’s what makes the art of cinema so special.
The Cave of the Silken Web / The Cave of the Spider Women / Pan si dong (1927)
Director: Dan Duyu.
Screenplay: Guan Ji’an.
Cast: Yin Mingzhu. Xia Peizhen. Wenchao Wu. Jiang Meikang. Hongquan Zhou. Dan Erchun. He Rongzhu.
“The Cave of the Silken Web (1927) Movie Review” endnotes
The Cave of the Silken Web movie reviewed at the San Francisco Silent Film Festival (website).
Released in 1930, The Cave of the Silken Web II is the now-lost sequel to the 1927 film. Once again, Dan Duyu directed Yin Mingzhu.
Dan Duyu and Yin Mingzhu were the parents of actress Judy Dan, seen in small roles in several Hollywood movies of the 1950s and 1960s (e.g., Destination Gobi, The Spiral Road).
The Cave of the Silken Web movie image: Courtesy of the National Library of Norway.
“The Cave of the Silken Web: Chinese Cinema Landmark” last updated in November 2021.