The Goddess

The story of a young prostitute who is trying to give her infant son a good start in life, fighting against the prejudices of others and the attentions of a pimp.


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  • ★★★★★ review by Laurie Holden on Letterboxd

    One of my favorites!

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  • ★★★★½ review by Ruth on Letterboxd

    Part of my March Around the World 2015 Challenge. Destination #12: People’s Republic of China (inherited from Republic of China, and review after the fact)

    The Goddess by modern standards is a fairly simple melodrama, but the artistry and timeless conviction from cast & crew completely inhabits the otherwise simple material and raises it to another level. It is a well-acted and directed message against social injustice, and constitutes one of the best and most immensely watchable silents I have seen to date. There is indeed a revolutionary moment in referring to such a woman as a ‘Goddess’, and this constitutes the socially conscious backbone of The Goddess.

    The leftist insights of Wu Yonggang have aged remarkably well, sympathetically painting a woman fallen by circumstance, deserted and oppressed by the social inequality of 1930s society. She is all love and sacrifice for her fatherless son, domestic life and street life, focused on providing a better life for him any which way she can (which proves to be terribly difficult in 1930s China), but it is that tinge of circumstantial sadness behind the motherly smile that really leaves a mark. Whilst the film isn't perfect, and the pimp character never quite justifies his place beyond plot and theme pusher, the direction is a quiet achiever, with many small moments and montages resonating deeply with me. That this is indeed a directorial debut is quite stunning, not to mention that Wu's directorial career (and eventually the film) managed to outlive the turmoil of Mao-era China

    The Goddess would not work anywhere near as effectively without the emotive magic and moral authority wielded by the tragic actress at its epi-centre; Ruan Ling-Yu. She functions above and beyond the call of duty as the heartfelt vessel of meaning. Her maternal performance, belying her years, embodies everything the film is trying to say, and her silent film performance has aged remarkably well, with such deft yet intense displays of emotion from the plight of a mistreated woman. Wu at all times knows how to capture this performer’s energy, particularly through a flurry of well-judged close-ups, and it is in this collaboration that the film excels (although Wu is equally adept at capturing lively performances from the paint strokes of his other performers as well). Social injustice, particularly that of a gendered nature, has rarely been captured with such a cinematic simplicity and power.

    The Goddess is one of those immensely watchable films I could happily watch over and over. In its sympathy for the lower class angels, it subverts blind nineteenth century attitudes on the immorality of poverty, communicating the unforgiving forced hand of a fallen society rather than a fallen woman. Given the partially mirrored experience of Ruan’s own life at this point, bullied and betrayed by vicious societal gossip into a tragic end in 1935, The Goddess also functions as a sorrowful yet life-affirming document of a powerful and iconic performer taken from us too early. The Goddess has lasting impact beyond the silent divide (from China no less), but it also captures the zenith of a prodigious performer. One of my new favourites from 1930s cinema.

  • ★★★★½ review by Filipe Furtado on Letterboxd

    Griffithian in the very best sense.

  • ★★★★ review by Sean Gilman on Letterboxd

    Old fashioned story about a prostitute with a maternal heart of gold that would be trite if not for the elegantly precise filmmaking of Wu Yonggang (making his first film, he served as director, screenwriter and art director) and the fact that Ruan Lingyu sets the screen on fire.

  • ★★★★★ review by Hibiscus on Letterboxd

    I don't think I've ever been this emotionally attached, and ultimately devastated, by a silent film ever before.

    Please, more people need to see this film.

    This is the kind of cinema we need today, more than ever before.

    (I'll stop writing here, and wash away the tears from my face)

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