The Goddess (1934)

TV-PG   |    |  Drama

The Goddess (1934) Poster

Street walker by night, devoted mother by day, a woman fights to get her young son an education amid criminal and social injustice in China.



  • The Goddess (1934)
  • The Goddess (1934)
  • The Goddess (1934)
  • The Goddess (1934)
  • The Goddess (1934)
  • The Goddess (1934)

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12 May 2011 | xc108
| shen nu(The Goddess)
The Goddess was released in 1934, which is directed by Wu Yonggang. This movie is regarded as one of the best movie of China's film history. The actress, Ruan Ling-yu, became an icon of Chinese silent film for her performance in this film.

The Goddess portrayed the miserable life of a prostitute in Shanghai during the 1930s. The prostitute is shaped as one representativeness of the social marginalized group. She suffered physical as well as psychological abuse from her surrounding environment. The more she made efforts to escape from her poor life; the more cruel things happened to her. This film has not only social significance but also cultural implication; which exhibits how weak a humanitarian morality is while facing the social reality(Meyer, 2005).

The Goddess was regarded as one outstanding realism film of China's cinematic golden age (Meyer, 2005). During the period of between 1930s and 1940s, the thematic concerns of social conflict always focus on economic exploitation and political oppression in the realism film. As compared with the film with similar theme, the director of The Goddess did not place too much in revealing social exploitation and oppression. The director exhibited the social harsh through the relationship between the prostitute with other people, including her neighbours, the master of her son's school, the gangsters and other children's parents. The prostitute gained sympathy and helps from some kind people; but mostly she had to suffer the mistreatment from the evil people as well as the discrimination from the middle-class in her society. The implicit expression help director enhanced the social tragedy meaning for the disadvantaged group.

The role of prostitute was performed by Ruan Lingyu who successfully shaped a woman living a dual life. As a prostitute, she abandoned her self-respect as a woman while standing at the night street to make a deal with clients. In the other hand, she had never forgotten to take her responsibilities as a mother. For example, when she returned home with a tired face every morning, the first thing what she did was to see her son. However, his son was isolated by school peers and was required to drop out because his mother was prostitute. The prostitute became the obstacle to her son; and her basic rights as mother was deprived. The image of prostitute has double tragedy meanings. This is a silent movie. The actress, Ruan lingyu, used different body language to express duel personalities of that woman, for example, seeing through the legs of that gangster, her panic face and desperate eyes. The inner world of that character has been performed by implicit facial expression and dull body movement. Yun's body language is natural but restricted, which creates a sense of elegant and classical aesthetics.

The director has been influenced by symbolism and European pioneer films (Meyer, 2005). The approach to narration in this film does not follow the routines of traditional Chinese drama. The dramatic conflicts have not been enhanced by strong external actions and emotion tensions. The director more focuses on the character's psychological descriptions in the climax of the plot. For example, the prostitute was raped by that gangster; the prostitute killed that gangster; and the prostitute was in the court. There are a lot of lens that express psychological change of the characters through eyes and facial expression. In addition, aligning with Chinese aesthetic approach, this film enhance the visual effects by the means of light and the picture composition. This film also emphasizes the details design. For example, the environment landscape has been repeated through leans; and the feet of prostitutes while walking in the street to meet clients. The subtle and plain cinematographic technique create a flowing but deep style.

Chinese aesthetic artistic conception has gone through the film. This film is about a story of prostitute. The title of this film – The Goddess – is actually borrowed from Chinese classical literature works, which is a euphemistic saying of women who are keeping immoral sexual relationship with men. The occupation of the character in the film is a prostitute. The tile has conveyed a implicit meaning for audiences about the content of story. The character's psychological desperation and performance form have not any erotic meanings; it is very clean instead. This is in consisting with Chinese traditional euphemism expression and subtle art style. Because of realistic social meanings, implicit narrative approach, subtle cinematographic and the outstanding performance of actress, The Goddess is one of the most important movies in the history of Chinese cinema.


Meyer, R.J. (2005). Ruan Ling-Yu: The goddess of Shanghai. Hong Kong University Press.

The Goddess (Chinese: Shen nu) (1934) Wu Yonggang

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Shanghai, China

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