An unnamed devoted mother sells herself by night on the streets of Shanghai in order to support herself and her infant son. When a gambler who calls himself "the Boss" strong-arms his way into becoming her pimp, she flees with her son and attempts to earn an honest living, but the Boss tracks her down and forces her back into prostitution. When her son reaches school age, she begins hiding away enough money to pay his tuition. Although her son is ostracized by other kids due to her profession, she takes great joy in providing an education and a potential better future for him. When the other parents want the boy expelled, a kindly principal fights to keep him in school. Meanwhile, the Boss finds her hidden cash, adding financial woes to the problems of social injustice. Written by
A great example of the work of Ruan Ling-yu and director Wu Yonggang
One of the most important productions of the golden age of Chinese films because of its symbolism was director Wu Yonggang's first endeavor,"The Goddess" (Shennu). The title of the film was the Shanghai way of describing a woman who sells her body. Ruan plays a prostitute who uses her earnings to support and educate her son. The heroine is forced to enter the oldest of professions, as it is the only way for her and her child to survive and to provide for his education. More than any other film, "The Goddess" captures the misery and hopelessness of China at the time. Ruan is the symbol of China's suffering. Only as a prostitute could she support her child and give him an education. "The Goddess" was a breakthrough for the director Wu in his sympathetic depiction of a prostitute. He used montage to portray Shanghai at night. He also shows that she was moral, but evil forces were the cause of her plight. A new DVD with English inter-titles and a beautiful piano score by Kevin Purrone is available from The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (www.silentfilm.org). My new book "Ruan Ling-yu: The Goddess of Shanghai" published by Hong Kong University Press tells the tragic story of Ruan Ling-yu.
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