Cinematic Cities: The Shanghai Night

The Goddess (1934)

The Goddess (Shen nu – China 1934)
Director Yonggang Wu | DP Hong Weilie

One of the masterpieces of the silent cinema starring the legendary Chinese actress Ruan Lingyu,  is a fatalistic story of entrapment and futility, which presages French poetic realism. The film is a profound and mesmerising critique of greed and bourgeois hypocrisy, set against the tender counterpoint of the bond between mother and child.  The streets of Shanghai are a glittering purgatory. The fallen woman walks the dark streets of oppression and shame. Trapped and struggling, loving and kind, a prostitute and an angel, she soars with wings of  joy for a brief instant above the sordid infamy of vanity, exploitation, and deprivation. A woman’s anguished bid for freedom is a revolutionary act.  The whore and the mother the existential  heroine made flesh.

4 thoughts on “Cinematic Cities: The Shanghai Night”

  1. Tony, you are the true master of word economy, as your capsule here captures the essence of this classic of silent cinema, and one of the truly great films in all of Chinese cinema in fact. And Ruan Lingyu is electrifing in this shattering emotional performance, even eclipsing the work she did in THE PEACH GIRL. (“the streets of Shanghai are a glittering purgatory–“a prostitute and an angel” “the sordid infamy of vanity, exploitation and deprivation..” Manificent imagery!
    Of course the love that Lingyu has for her son and the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ is moving on the highest level that drama can offer, and few films leave one so crestfallen. It’s a film no true lover of cinema should miss.


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