Zhao Dan(赵丹 Zhào Dān) was a performing artist with outstanding achievements. In the several decades of his movie career, he appeared in 35 films, portraying a series of brilliant images. Crossroads(十字街头 shízì jiētóu) and Street Angel(马路天使 mǎlù tiānshǐ), in which he plays the leading roles in 1936 and 1937, were two excellent pieces showing his early talent. His own experiences and temperament were similar to those of Old Zhao, the unemployed college graduate he played in Crossroads, and he vividly portrayed Old Zhao, an innocent, honest, enthusiastic and in a way, foolish intellectual.
In Street Angel, Zhao Dan plays the role of a poverty-stricken young trumpeter, realistically depicting the trumpeter’s kindheartedness, willingness to help others, honesty, and inclination to consider himself clever. The leading role he plays in Crows and Sparrows, a film of the 1940s, marked the maturity of his performing art. Proprietor Xiao, whom he portrays, is a typical urban petty bourgeois in a semi-feudal, semi-colonial society. He is fatuous but fancies himself clever, weak but pretends to be valiant, shortsighted but burning with an ambition to make a fortune. He is occupied with nothing and takes pleasure in listening to hearsay and then spreads what he has heard. He experiences humiliations and oppression to the fullest extent but becomes indifferent and finds excuses to console himself. Zhao Dan plays the role of Proprietor Xiao in a lifelike way. Zhao Dan shone with the brilliance of his artistic vigor in the 1950s and the 1960s. His portrayals of historical people in Li Shizhen, Lin Zexu, and Nie Er reached the highest level of Chinese performing art at that time.
In these films, he portrays three different kinds of people. Li Shizhen(李时珍 Lǐ Shízhēn) is a man of great depth. Pure, graceful, and unsophisticated, he is tinged with a local flavor. Lin Zexu(林则徐 Lín Zéxú) is lofty, exquisite and manly. Nie Er(聂耳 Niè Er) has passionate feelings, a strong period feel and a romantic air. All the images Zhao Dan created had a clear-cut individual character, rich color, a profound implication, and strong national feature. They were welcomed by Chinese audiences, and most of them have become everlasting artistic images of Chinese cinema.
Zhao died on October 10, 1980, at the age of 65.