On the night they were to be married, American missionaries Megan Davis (Barbara Stanwyck) and Dr. Bob Strike (Gavin Gordon) have to put their wedding on hold to rescue some children from an orphanage stuck in the middle of a war zone. In order to get through safely, Dr. Strike asks the feared General Yen (Nils Asther) for a pass to get to the orphanage safely. But General Yen doesn’t think very highly of Dr. Strike and sends him on his way with a worthless piece of paper. Dr. Strike and Megan manage to make their way to the orphanage, but when they get them to the train station, they find themselves caught in the melee and are separated.
Megan is knocked unconscious and when she comes to, finds herself on General Yen’s private train being cared for by Mah-Li (Toshia Mori), Yen’s mistress. She isn’t clear-headed enough to realize who he is, but she figures it out pretty quickly when she wakes up in his summer palace. Yen terrifies her, but he’s quite smitten with her. She wants to leave immediately, but he refuses to let her leave, telling her it isn’t safe. She tries to get letters to Dr. Strike, but Mah-Li never sends them. Yen repeatedly asks her to join him for dinner, but she keeps refusing.
But one night, Megan has a dream about Yen that reveals her true feelings toward him: deep down inside, she’s in love with him. Finally, she stops resisting his advances and joins him for dinner. But while Megan is getting closer to Yen, Mah-Li is betraying his trust. Mah-Li is actually a spy who has been feeding information about Yen to his enemies. When Yen catches her, Megan begs him not to kill her and offers to personally keep an eye on her. If anything happens again, he could kill Megan. Yen agrees, but when Mah-Li once again gives information to the enemies, information that leads to Yen’s downfall, Yen would rather take his own life than take Megan’s.
I really wanted to be able to like The Bitter Tea of General Yen, but I couldn’t really get into it. I’m just not a fan of movies that involve a woman being held against her will and she eventually falls in love with her captor. They’re just creepy to me. However, The Bitter Tea of General Yen is far less off-putting than, say, The Barbarian. Frank Capra was General Yen‘s director, so it’s safe to expect some very high production values from it. It has some very beautiful cinematography, Stanwyck and Asther had great chemistry together, and I loved Megan’s perfectly surreal dream sequence. Even though it was far from being one of my favorite movies, it was worth seeing at least once anyway.