Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

The Goddess (1934)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

The Goddess (1934, China) (aka Shen nu)

In director Wu Yonggang's (his debut film) silent melodrama about social injustice and maternal sacrifice - a tragic tale about the hard-times of a 1930s Shanghai, China prostitute (a "fallen woman") - a single mother who was raising her son in the hellish and foul city (in the midst of a civil war). [Note: Stanley Kwan's biopic Center Stage (1991, HK) (aka The Actress, or Ruan Lingyu) was the life story of Ruan Ling-Yu, portrayed by Maggie Cheung]:

  • the heartbreaking story of the anguished, mistreated, victimized, self-sacrificing, and disadvantaged main character: The 'Goddess' (Ruan Ling-Yu), a single mother-streetwalker who was trying to make a living on the neon-lit streets of Shanghai, while loving and caring for her young son Shuiping
  • her ethereal facial image, after a long night of prostituting - a close-up of her looking upward - as if to implore God to help her survive her ordeal of nightly hookups and the struggle to provide for her child
  • the despicable, easy-to-hate character of her pimp The 'Boss' (Zhang Zhizhi), an exploitative, threatening, chubby-faced gangster-hoodlum gambler who took most of her earnings, was abusive, and forcibly made her his property: "Listen baby, you're gonna find out soon who it is you're dealin' with. A little girl like you, you'd never make it out there without me"
  • the scene of the shunnings that she received from neighbors, and from the 'respectable' parents of her son's (Li Keng) classmates - who criticized both her son and herself for her moral corruption; even her son asked: "Why do they always say I'm not from their type of family?" - as she gently rocked him in her arms
  • the camera angles of her johns - either viewed by only their feet, or in overhead shots
  • renewed with hope, she was able to pay for her boy's education (with a secret stash of money she kept behind a loose brick in the wall), but there were increasing protests and the prejudiced governing school board put pressure on the Principal to investigate; when he learned of her "shameful" lifestyle, she explained her pure motivation: "I used the money I earned selling my body to support him in school. I want him to become a good person. Why do you deny my child the opportunity to get a good education?"
  • despite her pleas and the Principal's dissent before the board ("You must understand the problem is not with her, but with our society. She is a human being and has her human rights - so does her son. Particularly her son...She's had no choice but to throw herself on the mercy of the filthy streets...And it's all for the sake of her son, for his future...We have a moral duty to save him from this toxic environment"), the boy was expelled and the Principal resigned in protest
  • the downbeat conclusion - the 'Boss' had discovered her secret stash of money in the wall (saved up for her son's education and for her own independence) and immediately gambled it away; she confronted and grabbed him, as he admitted that he had already spent the money; she responded: "Then, we'll both die together" - and when he struck her in the mouth and drew blood, in self-defense, she grabbed a nearby bottle and smashed it over his head - and he collapsed dead to the floor
The Goddess' Self-Defense Murder of Her 'Boss'
  • after she fainted, there was a dissolve transition to a courtroom - she was brought before a judge and sentenced to twelve years in prison for murder; while shaking the bars of her jail cell in disbelief about her uncertain future, the Principal arrived and offered to adopt and educate her son - to give him the life she had always wanted for him: "The court ruled that your son should be sent to an orphanage. But I want you to know that I'm going to adopt him and educate him personally"
  • the final title card stated: "In the solitary and quiet life of the prison, she finds a new peace in imagining her child's bright future"; in the bittersweet ending, she envisioned her son smiling happily down upon her

Streetwalker "The Goddess" with Her Young Son

Looking Upward

With Her Son

With One of Her Johns (Feet Only)

Jailed and Sentenced to Twelve Years in Prison

The Principal's Offer to Take Care of Her Son

Envisioning Her Son


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