|THE GODDESS (SHEN NU) (director/writer: Wu Yonggang; cinematographer: Hong Weilie; music: Donald Sosin; cast: Ruan Lingyu (The Goddess), Zhang Zhizhi (The Boss); Runtime: 78; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Richard J. Meyer/Luo Mingyou; TCM; 1934-silent-China-in Chinese with English subtitles)|
of shame and sacrifice."
by Dennis Schwartz
landmark historical Chinese silent stars Ruan Lingyu, born in 1910.
She's China's ill-fated legendary actress, considered
her greatest actress of that era. The talented but
troubled young actress, who began acting in 1927 and
had already completed 29 films before she committed
suicide in 1935 at the age of 24, left behind a note
that said "Gossip
is a fearful thing." Onscreen Ruan passionately portrayed a prostitute with
a heart of gold, who was a self-sacrificing mother.
Shanghai at the time was a city in the midst of a
civil war between the communists and national forces,
and because of the severe poverty it is believed that
one out of every thirteen women was a prostitute (some
100,000). The Shanghai actress was the subject of Stanley Kwan's 1992 biopic "The
Actress," starring Maggie Cheung.
27-year-old writer-director Wu Yonggang ("Tea
Boy Kidding His Master"/"Third Sister Liu"/"A Remote
Village") does justice to this tragic tale of shame
and sacrifice. The unnamed heroine is played by Ruan Lingyu, and is
referred to as the Goddess. The Shanghai resident
works at night as a streetwalker to support her infant
son. Things take a turn for the worse when during a
police raid of the red-light district, to escape the
Goddess is forced to hide in the apartment of a
portly street criminal known as the "Boss (Zhang Zhizhi)" and later is forced to
secure him as her uncaring pimp. This dire situation
causes the Goddess to flee the city with her child for
an industrial city, where she experiences hard times.
The pimp soon tracks her down and kidnaps her child,
forcing her to work for him again. Determined that her
shunned son by society gets a good education and a
chance for a better life, she saves money for him on
the sly. At school bullies pick on the kid and mock
him as a bastard. When the parents in the school
object to the prostitute's son attending, the school
board expels him despite the impassioned pleas of the
sympathetic principal to let him attend. As a result,
the principled principal resigns in protest.
When the pimp discovers her
secret stash, he tries to take it from her and
she kills him in self-defense. The unjust judicial
system sentences her to twelve years in prison.
We're now left to ponder if she will ever see her
child again and who will take care of him while she's
The flawed film because of
its overbearing story, is still a must see because of
Ruan's stunning heart-tugging performance and its
welcomed message of tolerance for others.
REVIEWED ON 9/26/2013 GRADE: B+
Dennis Schwartz: "Ozus' World Movie Reviews"
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DENNIS SCHWARTZ