Synopsis by Judd Blaise
Completed just before the communist revolution and considered by many a crucial work in the history of Chinese cinema, Zheng Junli's Crows and Sparrows portrays the struggle between the residents of a Shanghai building and their powerful, exploitative landlord during the last days of Chiang Kai-Shek's nationalist government. The landlord, Mr. Hou, had opportunistically seized the building from the elderly former owner, Mr. Kong, during the Japanese occupation. Now, however, thanks to the turbulent political situation, he and his wife must leave the city, and make plans to sell the house, evicting all other residents in the process. When the tenants discover this plot, they try to band together to keep their homes. However, some tenants disagree with the plan, and form their own schemes -- from demanding that Huo pay them a "vacancy fee" to buying the house with black market gold. The increasingly difficult climate in Shanghai, including a housing shortage, heavy inflation, and politically motivated arrests, places further pressure on all parties involved. The misunderstandings that follow are often presented in a comedic light, with much attention to character and humanity, while maintaining a sense of the gravity of the surrounding political and social changes.