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
This silent film comes from the "social conscious" school of Chinese filmmakers of the mid-thirties and deals with the problems facing a single mother who has slipped into a life of prostitution, partly from a desire to maintain her child. It's very much of a "studio" film, with few exteriors and rather limited sets.
Despite some melodramatic aspects of the story, the acting is quite well-done. In fact the primary interest of the film is due to the sensitive and luminescent performance of the star, Ruan Lingyu. Since the story concerns the plight of a woman (and her child) who suffers from scornful remarks made by those around her, there is an extra element of interest associated with the fact that Ruan Lingyu committed suicide shortly after making this film, apparently because of malicious gossip made about her private life.
Technically, the film features some inventive camera work, considering the mundane sets. The editing, however, is not first-rate, with numerous jump cuts and camera-axis crossings. Another surprising element is the text length of some of the titles. Many of the titles seem unnecessarily long.
In any case, the film is carried along by the emotive performance of Ruan Lingyu. This film is well worth seeing.
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