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February 18, 2010

The Goddess

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Shen nu
Wu Yonggang - 1934
Hong Kong University Press

The following is the second of two entries for "For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon" hosted by Marilyn Ferdinand of Ferdy on Film and Farran Smith Nehme of Self Styled Siren.

Sometimes film preservation is decided by one person. In the case of The Goddess, we have the sole remaining print made available on DVD due to the efforts of Rlchard J. Meyer. Professor Meyer secured the 35mm print from the China Film Archive, take it Haghefilm in Amsterdam, where the print was restored as much as possible, and a digital conversion created. The Goddess is one of only two films starring Ruan Ling-Yu that is available on DVD. I had written about the other film, The Peach Girl about a year ago. The DVD comes with a short piece with Professor Meyer discussing the restoration of the film and the life of Ruan Ling-Yu, and composer Kevin Purrone on his musical choices for the piano score composed for the DVD.

The title is the slang term of the time given to Shanghai prostitutes. Ruan plays a streetwalker who is working to support herself and her baby son. Almost caught in a police raid on the streets, the woman who is never named, temporarily ducks into the closest open door. She finds herself in the small room of a very large man, though also a very small time gangster, known as "The Boss". First demanding sexual favor in exchange for hiding "The Goddess" from the police, "The Boss" blackmails "The Goddess" into surrendering her earnings to him to keep him from selling her son. "The Goddess" finds away to hide her money long enough to afford to send her growing son to school, with the hopes that he has greater opportunities in life.

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Wu Yonggang's debut film, that he both wrote and directed, was socially conscious, dealing with class prejudices and people at the margins of Shanghai. There are several shots of the neon lights of Shanghai at night, promising a glamourous life that is beyond the reach of any of the characters. The overlapping traveling shots of the neon lights remind me of some of the later German silent films. It should be noted that Asian cinema was several years behind in converting from silent to sound filmmaking. Several times in The Goddess, Wu uses framing devices in his composition of several shots, often using windows, and later, the prison bars in the film's final scenes.

The DVD comes with a 94 page book by Professor Meyer that provides a biography of Ruan, a full list of her films, and a good sized biblography that covers writings on Ruan, Chinese cinema, and Shanghai in the 1930s. There are also a number of film stills and photographs of Ruan. All of this is especially recommended to those who only know of Ruan through her portrayal by Maggie Cheung and the few film excerpts that were in Stanley Kwan's Center Stage. There is much more to Wu Yonggang than what is listed at IMDb, as this more complete filmography will verify.

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The two Ruan Ling-Yu DVDs are available through The San Francisco Silent Film Festival.

Click here to contribute to the National Film Preservation Foundation.

Posted by peter at February 18, 2010 12:36 AM

Comments

Thank you for the interesting post. I did not realize that "The Goddess" was saved by the efforts of one person. That probably happens more often than I realized.

Posted by: Joe Thompson at February 18, 2010 11:59 PM

I love hearing about films I would never otherwise have known about. Thanks for this essay on what is clearly a slice of history.

Posted by: Tinky Weisblat at February 20, 2010 08:47 AM

Thanks for writing about THE GODDESS. What a great film. While I lived/worked in China, I got my paws on yet another of Ruan's films on DVD, YIDHANMAE, which had serious nitrate deterioration but the title cards were in both pre-simplified Chinese and English. (A rarity back then??)

I'm glad we both posted to the blogathon or else I wouldn't have come upon your blog this week. I luv it!!

Posted by: Doug Bonner at February 21, 2010 12:53 AM

Just wanted to add that I'm adding your blog to my blogroll at PostModernJoan.com

Posted by: Doug Bonner at February 22, 2010 10:30 PM

Joe, Tinky and Doug: Thanks for coming by.

Posted by: Peter Nellhaus at February 23, 2010 08:13 AM