The Bitter Tea of General Yen is a pre-Code 1933 film, directed by Frank Capra based on the novel by Grace Zaring Stone. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck and Nils Asther. The film was the first to play at the Radio City Music Hall upon its opening in January, 1933. Even though the General Yen, is played by a white actor in yellow face, it was one of the first movies ever to deal with interracial attraction.
While Mr. and Mrs. Jackson, missionaries in Shanghai, prepare their home for the wedding of their friends missionary Dr. Robert Strike and Megan Davis. They receive news of the out break of the civil war and they decide to postpone the wedding, so that Strike can rescue the orphans. Megan waits in the car while Bob asks General Yen, a Chinese warlord, to give him a safe passage. Yen, does not support Bob's missionary ideals and gives him a worthless piece of paper. When Megan and Bob reach the burning orphanage, the soldiers steal their car as they are leaving with the children. They reach the train station, but in the confusion, Bob and Megan are both knocked unconscious and are separated. Megan regains consciousness in the private train of Yen where she meets, Mah-Li. They soon arrive at Yen's summer palace, where Jones, Yen's American financial advisor, is waiting to tell Yen that he has the six million dollars, hidden in a boxcar. Yen, who is fascinated by Megan, tells her it is unsafe to send her back to Shanghai. Soon, Megan's own attraction to Yen is revealed to her in a dream.
It becomes obvious that Mah-Li is betraying Yen with Captain Li, one of his soldiers. Yen arrests Mah-Li for being a spy. Megan offers to answer for Mah-Li's actions if her life is spared. Yen knows that Mah-Li will not change, but, for the growing love for Megan, he agrees. Mah-Li does betray him, and he is ruined. Megan's world shatters around her.
The sets for this film were reused for Columbia's One Night of Love (1934).
In my opinion excellent performances of both Nils Asther and Barbara Stanwyck. Nils Asther, a matinee idol during silent days, found it difficult to find good roles in talking pictures, because of his exotic looks. But, with BITTER TEA he found the role of a lifetime. His performance as General is very believable. Barbara Stanwyck, also gives a wonderful performance with the emotions of Asther Yen a missionary captive.