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  • One of the most important productions of the golden age of Chinese films because of its symbolism was director Wu Yonggang's first endeavor,"The Goddess" (Shennu). The title of the film was the Shanghai way of describing a woman who sells her body. Ruan plays a prostitute who uses her earnings to support and educate her son. The heroine is forced to enter the oldest of professions, as it is the only way for her and her child to survive and to provide for his education. More than any other film, "The Goddess" captures the misery and hopelessness of China at the time. Ruan is the symbol of China's suffering. Only as a prostitute could she support her child and give him an education. "The Goddess" was a breakthrough for the director Wu in his sympathetic depiction of a prostitute. He used montage to portray Shanghai at night. He also shows that she was moral, but evil forces were the cause of her plight. A new DVD with English inter-titles and a beautiful piano score by Kevin Purrone is available from The San Francisco Silent Film Festival (www.silentfilm.org). My new book "Ruan Ling-yu: The Goddess of Shanghai" published by Hong Kong University Press tells the tragic story of Ruan Ling-yu.
  • As an ancient Chinese poet has mentioned before, "it is even mesmerizing to be silent rather than with sound"... this is what i would like to quote here to describe the feeling when i was watching " Shennv".

    A quite simple plot, but truly a heartbreak story...Even though it is not a talkie, no background music( the VCD version i watched), no color, but her splendid acting already captured my heart, the way she express the sorrow and the ambivalent being a wonderful mother and a depressed prostitute is simply captivating...I am wandering how a young actress (she should be 24 at that time), without any formal education of performing art, will able to achieve such a superb and impressive acting skills...no doubt she has become one of the screen legend in cinema history...

    it is no doubt a genuine classics in Chinese silent cinema, worth watching...
  • mocha-328 July 1999
    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.
  • lyrast30 October 2008
    Warning: Spoilers
    I've just watched "The Goddess" and was enormously impressed. Ruan Ling-Yu plays the part of a prostitute who sells her body to support her child and give him an education. Her magnificent performance dominates the film. With a wonderful dignity which completely avoids melodrama, she conveys a complexity of emotional dimensions through her facial expressions. Thus, we see her tenderness as she cradles her baby, the terror when the "Boss" threatens to take the child if she doesn't follow his orders, the joyful delight when her son gets the chance to escape the filth of the society which victimizes her by going to school. At other times Ruan conveys anger, bitterness, frustration, and sorrow. A particularly moving scene is the moment she pleads with the old principal to keep her child at school despite the objections of the more "respectable" parents. This scene also focuses the themes of vulnerability and victimization which permeate the film's societal vision. In an excellent commentary to the film, Richard J. Meyer points up Ruan's emphasis on such themes as Poverty, Sufferng and Class Division through the persona of the Strong woman and mother. All these ideas are clearly and memorably crystalised in "The Goddess". Two contrasting figures are the Boss, the prostitute's Pimp, who victimizes and uses her for his own greed and the gentle, socially aware principal who realizes her inner dignity and heroic worth as she struggles against the restrictions of a "toxic environment". The conclusion dramatizes the heroically sacrificial personality of the mother. Sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing the Boss, she accepts the offer of the old principal to adopt and educate her son. She resigns herself stoically to the joy of knowing he will escape the societal trap of poverty and degradation which has destroyed her life. There are wonderful moments in this film. At one point she cuddles her child. She rocks him almost in time with the inexorable swings of the pendulum of the clock which will send her out on to the streets. When the Boss threatens to sell her child, the camera frames through the triangle formed by the aggressively spread legs of the Boss as she huddles on the floor protectively clasping her baby. It's a scene one will never forget. The film has an absolutely wonderful piano accompaniment both composed and played by Kevin Purrone. He skillfully blends various motifs to create atmosphere and convey character details superbly. Tony Raynes put it well when he said:

    " . . .this is the kind of film that demands a rewriting of the film history books. . . Free of moralism and melodrama, expressively composed and lit and very naturalistically acted, this is a film of startling modernity."
  • crossbow010617 June 2008
    This film stars the beautiful and tragic actress Ruan Ling Yu as a prostitute in Shanghai, whose life is devoted to having her son excel in life. She is a prostitute so she can make money for him. Along the way, a man rescues her from the police and becomes her pimp, not exactly of her own choosing. The story is her struggle. In a lesser actress this could have been too sentimental and unrealistic. Ruan Ling Yu is amazing in this role. Keeping in mind this is a silent film, her expressions and mannerisms have to be on target and they always are. The concept of a prostitute with a heart of gold has been fairly overdone, but Ruan Ling Yu is so great, it makes the film great. A tragedy that she took her life at 24, it is a loss to anyone who watches films. Just a terrific film.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Although I am a big fan of silent movies, I have to admit that The Goddess is the first Asian silent movie I have ever watched.

    Well acted, The Goddess tells the story of a mother who is a prostitute selling herself to make ends meet for her and her young son. Scorned and ridiculed by the neighbors, the community and (in the case of her son) local children, The Goddess is an intriguing and engrossing silent.

    Although ashamed of her way of life, the mother has nothing but love for her son, and she is determined to provide him with a good education so he has a better chance at life than what she had. However, local parents complain to the school about this child being a bad influence on the other children and the morality of the school due to his mothers disgraceful way of making a living; resulting in the child being expelled from the school.

    There are a few twists and turns in this movie that provides a well-balanced and intriguing storyline. Wonderfully filmed, The Goddess captures the desperation of a struggling single mother quite well. Overall, I thought The Goddess was an excellent silent, and one I would highly recommend to others who are also fans of the silent age of movies as well.
  • When we think of Chinese cinema, the sorts of movies that come to mind are movies like "Hero" and "House of Flying Daggers". This makes Wu Yonggang's "Shénnǚ" ("The Goddess" in English) especially worth seeing. Considered one of the all-time masterpieces of Chinese silent cinema, it focuses on a destitute woman forced to work as a prostitute to support her son. The nameless protagonist is forced to become the property of a gambler, but her troubles don't end there.

    The movie reminded me of King Vidor's "Stella Dallas", about a woman forced to sacrifice everything so that her daughter can have a better life. Indeed, what the protagonist here experiences is very much like what we see in Charlie Chaplin's movies. I understand that 1930s China was a tourist trap for westerners while still beset with poverty (not to mention the war crimes that Japan committed there).

    The release came not long after the publication of Pearl Buck's novel "The Good Earth", about a Chinese peasant family. Much like how that book helped expose people in the US to the lives of ordinary Chinese without the negative stereotypes commonly attributed to them, this movie shows what the Chinese peasants had to do to survive in a world where the cards are stacked against them. An important part of cinema history. I recommend it.

    PS: Although Ruan Lingyu was one of China's top movie stars at the time, her life turned out to be tragic: she committed suicide of a barbiturate overdose the year after the movie's release.
  • 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.

    References

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

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

    *** 1/2 (out of 4)

    Extremely good silent drama from China about a devoted and loving mother (Lingyu Ruan) who wants the best for her young child so by night she works as a prostitute. This leads her to take all sorts of abuse by the other women in her area but worse of all is the abuse she takes from a man (Zhizhi Zhang) who pretty much takes possession of her. THE GODDESS is without question a true gem and certainly one of the best Chinese pictures I've seen from this era. It's easy to see why this film was such a hit in China when it was originally released and especially when one learns that many women in that era were working as prostitutes to support themselves. Making a silent film in 1934 certainly wasn't the norm at the time but I honestly don't think this movie would have worked had there been sound. Director Yonggang Wu does a masterful job at making everything flow so well that the added words would have just taken away from its poetic beauty. The film flows from one bad situation to the next and after a while you begin to realize that whenever something nice happens for the young mother then sure enough something bad will follow. What really makes this film work so well is the amazing performance by Ruan who apparently felt many of the same emotions as this character. From what I've read, before this film she had several suicide attempts and she eventually did kill herself about a year after this picture was released. Her performance is simply one of the best from this era in any film because of the emotion and love she shows for her kid. Even better is when the pain of her situation and "job" begin to haunt her. Zhang, who plays the abusive jerk, is certainly a major snake that people will have no trouble in hating. The only negative thing is that the film never really bothers to tell us how the mother got into this situation and there's really no explanation as to why she doesn't try doing something else. Still, THE GODDESS is without question a real gem with one of the best performances that you're going to see.
  • A prophetic and visionary allegory of Chinese history, and an illuminating comment on the dynamics of repression. The protagonist is Mother China. Despoiled by international society, she must peddle her ass on the streets of Shanghai to support her son.

    She is raped by a fat gambler, who then moves in with her, keeping her son as hostage. This lecherous clown looks very like the young Mao.

    Wanting him to succeed in life, she sends her son to school, but he is expelled when outraged parents find out who his mother is. The old principal resigns.

    If this incomparable film acquires an effective score it will spell the end for the Chinese Communist Party.
  • The Goddess (Lingyu Ruan) works the Shanghai street as a prostitute to raise her beloved son. She falls under the control of The Boss. She tries to escape the life but she is pushed back in. He's an illiterate sadistic brute who even pretends to sell her son to put her in fear. Her son is ostracized by the other kids and she uses her hard earned money to pay for an education. The other parents find out and try to get him expelled. The elderly principal struggles to let him stay but he is unsuccessful. The boss steals the money she had hidden away.

    This is a throughly modern movie. It's a silent movie from China. The lead actress is terrific. It is such a downtrodden portrayal. It's also amazing to see Shanghai during its 30s Golden Age. This is a treasure of a time gone by.
  • A young mother and prostitute does whatever she must to ensure her little boy receives a good education. The kind of movie that would be a melodramatic tear-jerker in the hands of a Hollywood director is given a much more naturalistic feel by Yonggang Wu. Lingyu Ruan, a year before she committed suicide at the age of 24, gives a performance of immense strength and nuance, while Zhizhi Zhang is full of malign cheer as the bullying pimp who takes over her life. Great movie that overcomes the generic nature of its story to deliver a real emotional experience
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A silent film in 1934 in China, when the rest of the world had moved to talkies in 1930, that's surprising. But this film is probably a masterpiece. And yet the subject is simple. A prostitute wants to provide her son with an education. The film is about the difficulties she meets on the way to this objective.

    First of all her pimp is stealing her money all the time. Then the slandering rumors and then protest letters of other parents in the name of the reputation of their children. The headmaster of the school is ready to concentrate on his mission, which is to educate the child and not consider the mother. But he has to resign and the others get rid of the kid.

    Then the mother wants to leave the city where they are known but she finds out her pimp has stolen her money one more time. She confronts him and finally attacks him with a bottle. The court of justice to which she is brought will not look for extenuating circumstances and will send her to prison for twelve years and the child to some special education school.

    But then the headmaster who had resigned for the child decides to visit her and get her authorization to take care of the child and provide him with the education he deserves. She agrees and the end is an angelic dream of the mother about the happy future of her son.

    This scenario is very typical of its period but it has little in common with what the west was doing at the time or even before. There is no excessive expressiveness, no images overloaded with symbolic meaning. The actors play as if they were able to speak, in the most natural way. This acting gives to the argument a believable power that makes it just plain real. It is pure and true truth and nothing else.

    The second argument is that the situation and the discourse is possible, believable and serious. No artificial body language, no excessive posturing and contortions, no overdone facial expressiveness. That increases the power of the story and we just accept it as being what may happen everyday around us, if we opened our eyes enough to see it. The film then becomes extremely significant.

    But the divine, angelic or idyllic end is surprising in 1934 when the whole world is sinking in the worst crisis ever and when military aggressiveness is growing in all countries or nearly. But the great advantage is that it makes it possible to avoid any kind of easy ideological discourse, like the republican reformism of the Kuomintang or that of the Communist Party of Mao Zedong. And that enables the film to become universal.

    Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
  • I am a modern film viewer. In part, this means that I have the curse of looking at the package as well as its contents. It matters to me how the thing is made, and how that making is reflected in the narrative proper.

    All of us are now. That's why if you want a film with essentially none of what I call folding and still be a fine film you have to go to an old one.

    This has that quality in fine degree. And it has something else to captivate. It was made in China before the communists took over. It was a time of great poverty and everyone in China would have been aware of this. It is in fact why the communists were tolerated at first, under they secured absolute power. Its this social fabric that the film mines, even exploits. Its all gone now, would be shortly after the film was made.

    But if you can transport yourself into the simple story, you can transport yourself into a whole unique nation of a few thousand years that blinked out.

    The acting is quite film, by western and even modern standards.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
  • whpratt110 June 2008
    Greatly enjoyed this film starring Chinese actress Lingyu Ruan who plays the role as a prostitute who has a baby boy and sells her body in order to stay alive and feed her son. Ruan continues doing this job for many years and eventually a pimp takes over his control on Ruan's money and even her life. Ruan's son becomes old enough to attend a school and she hides her money in a wall in order to pay for his education. Ruan's neighbor's are against her and do not want her son to play with their children. This is a very sad story and the ending will surprise you greatly as to just what happens to Ruan and the future of her son. You will need a box of tissues for the ending.
  • gbill-748774 April 2021
    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.
  • Shen nu / The Goddess (1934) : Brief Review :

    An early path-breaking Classic from Chinese Cinema. As a woman she is a Prostitute but as a Mother she is The Goddess. Wow! This is a fine example of extraordinary writing based on ordinary people where at one side you show her as a prostitute and on the other side you show The Goddess hidden in her in the form of A Mother. 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. Actually, it wasn't just about China but almost all the prostitutes were caught in the same vortex all over the world. The society had a clear mindset of not accepting the prostitute which was fair but not accepting her child whom she wants to make a good man was completely unfair. I am glad to know that someone like Wu Yonggang broke the silence on it in early 30s and set the trend of path-breaking and thought-provoking cinema that too in an industry like China where the sensitivity of this subject was damn too high. The Goddess is not just a powerful writing but also a highly emotional drama which will leave you teary-eyed for sure assuming that you understand the love and sacrifice of a mother for her child. Apart from that, you get to see one of finest performance by any Chinese actress of that time performed by Ruan Lingyu. The cinematic sense of director Wu Yonggang was matchless. He crafted the vulgar character without showing any offensive content, rather he kept it very audience friendly for all ages, including underage audience. Overall, The Goddess is a Must Watch for everyone who has ever loved his mother and for cinema lovers it has a terrific and daring content which was nothing short of trendsetter. Indeed, One of the most important film from Golden age of Chinese Cinema.

    RATING - 8/10*

    By - #samthebestest
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I found this Chinese silent film in the book 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, I didn't know what to expect because of the title, and I couldn't find a critics' rating, but I was looking forward to it. Basically an unnamed woman, the "Goddess" (Lingyu Ruan), is a devoted mother to her son Shuiping (Keng Li), she works as a prostitute to support herself and her baby. One night there is a street sweep by the police, the woman flees and hides in the room of gambler Zhang (Zhang Zhizhi). She agrees to stay with him for the night, so he will not report her to the police, later however he and two of his friends show up at her place, Zhang claims she is now his property. The woman attempts to flee, but Zhang catches up to her, and claims to have sold Shuiping as punishment, he does return her child and she accepts he has made his point. The woman realises she cannot protect her son from Zhang and gives, but she does hide some of her earnings from prostitution behind a loose brick in the wall. When Shuiping grows up to 5 or 6, she enrols him in school, the parents however learn that the woman is a prostitute and complain to the school. The old principal visits the woman at home to find out if this is true, she admits she is a prostitute, but he can see she genuinely loves her child, and his mother is in an unfortunate situation, but he cannot convince the rest of the staff to be lenient, he decides to resign and Shuiping is expelled. The mother decides that she and her child should leave and find somewhere where nobody knows them, but she finds that the money she has hidden behind the loose brick is gone, Zhang found her hiding place. The woman confronts Zhang and demands her money back, he tells her that he has already spent the money, in anger she picks up a bottle and hits him over the head with it, killing him. The woman is sentenced to twelve years in prison, while Shuiping is sent to an orphanage, the school principal comes to visit her, he assures her that he will take care of her son. In the end, the woman asks the principal to tell her son, if he ever asks who his mother is, that she is dead, she does not want him to suffer the shame of her being a prostitute, the picture ends with her imagining a bright future for Shuiping. The leading actress does give a touching performance as the woman who will do anything for child, but a lot of shame and rejection comes for her choices, this may be one of the last silent pictures from Chinese cinema, and it is certainly a worthwhile one, an interesting silent drama. Good!
  • 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/
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Before I begin the review, I should point out that this was a silent film despite being made in 1934. In fact, silents were made in China several years after this, as their film industry was way behind Hollywood and much of the rest of the world.

    SHEN NU is a very simple story and it is told in a very forthright manner without a lot of unnecessary dialog or plot. It is about a poor prostitute who works very hard to feed her baby. She seems like a decent sort of woman--she just doesn't have a lot of choice in life. The film has two main subplots. First, despite being of the lowest class in society, she works hard to send her son to a nice school but there is still a lot of prejudice against her and her young son. There is a lot of pressure to expel the boy because of his mother's profession but it's also a strong testament to her that she works as hard as she does to give him a better life. The second plot involves a brutal pig who forces the lady to accept him as her "benefactor". In reality, he takes from her and gives little back other than violence. Towards the end of the film, he steals every bit of money she had saved up and spent it gambling--leading to a not terribly surprising but sad ending.

    The film is without the overt sentimentality of similar later films. While the mother and her life are certainly not glamorized, neither is she condemned because of her circumstances. I'm sure back in 1934 this would have shocked many audiences, but it did make for a great example of social commentary. A very good film.