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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
Aristocrats must maintain their status of eccentricity in order to be observed as being above the herd but this is a hard task lately since nowadays even common people also have strange habits and behaviours that even for a German count are difficult to understand.
But this Herr Von fears not those coarse longhaired youngsters of today and still has many opportunities to be out of the ordinary; so accordingly with this aristocratic precept, last night in the Schloss theatre a Chinese silent film was shown.
"Shen Nu" ( The Goddess ) tells the story of a prostitute ( Dame Ruan Ling-Yu ) who will have to endure many hardships and social prejudices due to her occupation; meanwhile she is trying to raise her own little child. The shadows of the night extend through the Shanghai streets where she tries to make her poor living and her life is made more troublesome because of a gangster who has forced himself on her and acts as a kind of pimp. And of course she must also cope with the continual prejudices and isolation that she suffers from her neighbours while she struggles to give her child the best school education.
The film was directed by someone unknown to this German count who actually knows little about Chinese film directors and hopes to eventually end this ignorance. Herr Yonggang Wu is the director and the film is from the not precisely silent year of 1934 by now, it is well known among silent connoisseurs that in the Far East, the film companies continued to produce silent films until the mid 30's because of slow technical improvements in the industry and in the theatres.
"Shen Nu" is a good example of that Asian silent peculiarity and after having seen this film, this Herr Graf accordingly can describe this oeuvre as a talkie but without sound due to its technical qualities and style of film narrative.
The film is a remarkable oeuvre that astonishes the audience with its honestly in depicting (without moralizing) the hard and unhappy life of our heroine, reflected in the Shanghai streets at night and her dealings with her anonymous clients while living in a sordid apartment where she has to endure the annoying company of the pimp as she tries to raise her child. Our heroine persists because she knows that a good education is essential for her son so that he may have a better life than his mother. In the ending she must sacrifice herself for her child's happiness, not an unusual resolution for a film made in the 30's.
Dame Ruan Ling-Yu was the most famous actress during the Chinese silent film era, an actress with an intense but short career and who had much in common with her unhappy character in the film. She met a tragic end, a suicide at a very early age. Oddly enough, goddess was a nickname for prostitutes in Shanhgai
As this German count mentioned before, "Shen Nu" is a late silent film that doesn't play like a silent but seems strangely modern. It is a remarkable and interesting melodrama about the Shanghai slums and the prejudices and hypocrisies of modern society.
And now, if you'll allow me, I must temporarily take my leave because this German Count must adore a Teutonic deity.
Herr Graf Ferdinand Von Galitzien http://ferdinandvongalitzien.blogspot.com/
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