This tragic tale of the Orient was only the second feature film in which a color film process invented by Technicolor was used throughout (and was the first to use their subtractive two-color process). It stars the stunningly beautiful Anna May Wong as Lotus Flower, a Chinese girl who finds an American sailor washed up on the shore. The sailor, Allen Carver (Kenneth Harlan), professes to love her and they marry. He goes back out to the sea and Lotus Flower has a baby. But Carver is a faithless man, and he returns to China with an American wife, Barbara (Beatrice Bentley). Lotus Flower is devastated. She hands the baby over to Barbara and then "pays her debt to the sea" by throwing herself into it and drowning. Barbara adopts the child, as per Lotus Flower's last wishes. If this story seems to bear some similarities to Madame Butterfly, scenarist Frances Marion didn't exactly deny it. In fact, she later said it was "practically the step-daughter of Madame Butterfly." Despite its lack of an original story, Technicolor made it a success. But the process was so complicated -- in those days, the blue-greens were photographed on one strip of film, and orange-reds on another, to be glued together later -- that it took many more years and innovations before color was commonly used.
by Janiss Garza synopsis