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  • Two sisters having fled from the war in northeast China come to Shanghai looking for a better life. Xiao Yun (Zhao Huishen) is forced into prostitution while her younger sister Xiao Hong (Zhou Xuan) becomes a singer and dancer at a local brothel. Though enslaved to the musician Wang, they are aided by the friendship of a young street musician Xiao Chen (Zhao Dan) and his friend Xiao Wang (Wei Heling) who help the sisters fend off the brothel owner and local thugs. Considered an early Chinese classic, Yuan Muzhi's lyrical Street Angel depicts the daily struggles of those who made up Shanghai's underclasses in 1935 at the time of the Japanese occupation: the street walkers, news vendors, fruit sellers, musicians, barbers, and the like. The film blends comedy with social realism and shows Chinese women as victims of a ruthlessly commercial society.

    Unlike Flowers of Shanghai by Hou Hsiao-hsien which depicted the world of the courtesan behind closed doors, Street Angel shows the open world of Shanghai's street prostitutes, girls that have no status, are bought and sold, and allowed little individuality. Like the prostitutes in Hou's film, however, they are equally entrapped and their only escape is by marrying or running away. In spite of its theme, the film is never heavy handed but comes alive through the superb acting of Chen and the magnificent singing of then 18-year old Zhou Xuan. Zhou's songs and Chen's trumpet playing and magic tricks give the film a warmth and playfulness that transcends the bleak conditions and makes it universal in its appeal.
  • Except for the abrupt ending, this is perfect in many ways.

    Its a drama so far as the spine, but is expressed purely with comedy. Some of this is subtle and sweet, some bordering on slapstick.

    But what's so compelling about this is how integrated it is. The photography is profoundly deep for the period, with rich depth. It isn't spatial like some things I have seen recently. Its not about space or sets but about light and darkness. Within this are a variety of shots. Some of these are like you would expect, shots that directly advance the narrative. But this isn't about story, but texture. So you have all sorts of shots of the type you'd never see in an ordinary film.

    Different perspectives in the fashion of later Welles, of course. But there are annotative observations of things that either look or would be looked at casually by the people in the shot. The way it dances among watching them and being them is amazingly effective. Its a sort of fold, rare in my experience. Lots of long scene overlays. The editing is perhaps even more inspired because we get a rhythm that after seventy years, huge cultural divides and changes, it still reads as naturally — perhaps more — as the day and place it was made.

    Its fantastic. There are things you can do in black and white that simply are impossible in color.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.