Thursday, September 07, 2006

Chinese Silent Movie: The Goddess

"The Goddess" is a B&W silent movie filmed in Shanghai and released in 1934. Its immediate interest is due to the time the film was made: at the last gasp (and possible peak) of "Old Shanghai". The film shows a partially Westernized city overrun with prostitution and petty gangsters, with traditional moral codes that shouldn't apply, and with the occasional oblique allusion to the Japanese invasion taking place, that would overrun Shanghai in only three years. That probably sounds very interesting, in all fairness I must say it revolves around a simple and silly melodrama, and mostly utilizes a small number of indoor sets. Also, while there is obvious technical skill to the cinematography, the filmstock is very degraded and there are weird scene-cuts throughout.

I chose one segment that shows the most of Shanghai, and also encapsulates the basic melodramatic thrust of the movie. Things to look out for include: stock footage of what I'm guessing is the Bund, sets depicting its night life, a rickshaw driver, the clothing worn by the men & women, the clear class differences, and the cheap apartment. The clip is about four minutes long:

This movie stars Ruan Lingyu - people I asked weren't familiar with "The Goddess" itself, but they all knew who Ruan Lingyu was. From watching just this one movie, I would describe her as almost beautiful, and half a step away from being a great actress - as it is, the movie works almost entirely because of her performance. She commited suicide the following year, supposedly due to the pressures of tabloids. The movie was the first directed by leftist filmmaker Wu Yonggang, who made a number of movies over the next forty years.

This post varied from my normal 1st hand observations because I'm recovering from the flu and not disposed to going out and snapping pictures!

Update 9/24/08 - This movie can be downloaded in its entirety from

1 comment:

acidelic said...

It's a real shame. She was 25 years old when she committed suicide. Is there a complete copy of this floating around online?