Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen, a series of nine films, begins at Asia Society tomorrow night with this silent masterpiece from 1934 that inspired the series' name. It stars Ruan Lingyu, who was known as the "Chinese Greta Garbo," as an unnamed prostitute living in Shanghai with her young son.
One night the police make a sweep of the area where she works, and she finds herself being saved from arrest by a somewhat corpulent street boss. In return for his "good deed" he "suggests" that she spend the night with him. He soon comes to regard her as his property and a source for his gambling money.
When her son becomes school age, she is determined that he get an education and have the chance at living a good, decent life that was denied her. But her neighbors know what she does for a living and create problems by forbidding their children to associate with him and by objecting to his presence at the school he attends.
The drama centers on whether she, alone except for a sympathetic school principal, can overcome the obstacles in her path to securing a better life for her child, namely the possessiveness of the street boss and the animosity of her neighbors.
Ruan Lingyu made 29 films of which only 8 are still available. She committed suicide in 1935, having been vilified in the tabloids for her private life. The Goddess provides ample testimony to her greatness as an actress. With facial expressions, gestures and posture, she gives a magnificent performance that demonstrates a wide range of emotions as her character faces her myriad struggles.
Quite simply, The Goddess is a super-must-see for anyone seriously interested in the history of Chinese cinema. But it should also be of great interest and considerable enjoyment to lesser aficionados.
Ruan also figures in two other films in the series. New Women, her final film, will be shown on Sunday, November 11th at 4:00 pm. Center Stage, Stanley Kwan's 1992 bio-pic about her, will close out the series on Saturday, December 8th. also at 4:00 pm. Maggie Cheung most deservedly won four best actress awards for her portrayal of Ruan.
For more information about The Goddess and to order tickets for it, click here.
For complete information about the series, all the films in it, and to order tickets, click here.