Absolutely remarkable to me for two reasons:
1. The performance from Ruan Lingyu; she's brilliant in how she carries her body, uses her gestures, and evokes such emotion from her expressions. It's an all-time great performance, and heartbreaking that she would be dead just three months after its premiere.
2. The extraordinary humanity of the film's sympathy to the main character, a prostitute. From the very beginning the film refers to her as someone with "great moral character" despite her profession. It doesn't try to create a justification for why she works the streets, nor does it try to titillate the viewer with suggestive scenes of her encounters. The character isn't cheapened in any way, nor is she given fantasy characteristics to her tricks ala the "hooker with a heart of gold" trope. She's just a mother trying to give her child a better life. The real immoral people include the man who preys on her, and the judgmental parents at her son's school, who can't just leave her alone. What a beautiful moment it is when the principal stands up for her, saying this: "This is the result of a broader social problem. We can't fault her moral character, much less the child's." I was blown away (1934!), and thought it was head and shoulders above other films that deal with this subject matter.
While those are the stellar aspects to me, Zhang Zhizhi is deserving of note for a great performance as the heavy - he is truly menacing. Director Wu Yonggang also serves up great camera angles and tight shots on Ruan Lingyu, all of which heighten the emotion of the story. Overall, brilliant, and definitely one to seek out.
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