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Film / The Goddess

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The Goddess (神女, Shénnǚ) is a 1934 Chinese silent film. The unnamed protagonist is a young woman in Shanghai who is prostituting herself to provide for her infant son. One night she dives into a random door in order to avoid a police raid. Unfortunately for her the apartment she hides in is inhabited by a thuggish lout of a man who runs a gambling den. The man first strongarms her into having sex with him in exchange for hiding in the apartment, then later looks her up again and forces himself into her life as a most unwelcome pimp. The woman tries to raise her son while dealing with her pimp and struggling with the social stigma of her life as a prostitute.

The Goddess treats prostitution with a frankness and honesty that Western films would not approach for decades. Star Ruan Lingyu killed herself in 1935 aged only 24, after multiple bad relationships had made her a target of the Chinese tabloid press. Her story was dramatized in the 1991 film Center Stage, starring Maggie Cheung.

For another tearjerker starring Ruan Lingyu, see Peach Blossom Weeps Tears of Blood.


  • Asshole Victim: That pimp sure does deserve what he gets.
  • Between My Legs: The woman is framed this way between the pimp's legs, as he forces his way into her life.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The woman is sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing the pimp. But the principal comes to see her in jail and tells her that he has adopted the boy and will educate the boy himself, giving the boy a chance at a better life. The woman tells him to tell her son that she's dead, and the film ends with her imagining his future life.
  • Disappeared Dad: The woman tells the school that her son's father is dead. No backstory is provided to explain who the boy's father is or how the woman even wound up living the life of a streetwalker.
  • Double-Meaning Title: The Chinese title literally translates as "goddess", but was also slang for "prostitute". Here it works both ways, referencing the woman's occupation as well as her selflessness and bravery in taking care of her son.
  • Grievous Bottley Harm: Played with surprising realism. The woman kills the pimp with one blow to the head from a wine bottle, which doesn't shatter.
  • Heroic BSoD: The woman falls into one after she kills the pimp and doesn't snap out of it until she's tossed into her cell.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: She certainly deserves better than the life she got.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Screaming "Bastard! Bastard! Bastard!" at the boy at school is just not very nice.
  • Nameless Narrative: Not one name for any of the characters.
  • Never Learned to Read: The pimp admits this when wondering why the woman bothers to send her boy to school.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The principal of the school is perfectly willing to let the boy remain enrolled after confirming that the boy's mother is in fact a prostitute. The rest of the school board decides to expel the boy anyway, whereupon the principal resigns in protest.
  • Red Light District: Hookers roam street corners and thugs run illicit gambling dens, yep, it qualifies.
  • Sexual Extortion: The man basically threatens to throw her out of his apartment, which would have resulted in her arrest by the cop outside, if she doesn't have sex with him. Unfortunately for her, she accepts the deal.
  • Silence Is Golden: Talking films were made in China as early as 1930 (the first Chinese talkie is believed to be Sing Song Girl Red Peony), but silent films stuck around in China for quite a bit longer than they did in Hollywood and Europe. Language barriers, both the English-language barrier with Hollywood films and internal language barriers between Mandarin Chinese and other Chinese languages such as Cantonese, resulted in a market for silent films in China for several years after sound film production had begun.
  • Single Mom Stripper: The woman is hooking to support her boy.
  • Son of a Whore: The boy is socially stigmatized in the neighborhood and at school once people realize what his mother does.
  • Stepford Smiler: The woman when the pimp and his friends muscle their way into her apartment and demand to be entertained.
  • Streetwalker: How the woman earns a living. There is one intriguing scene that opens out on the street with a view of the woman's lower legs and feet, as she taps her foot impatiently. The feet of a man wearing nice shoes come into frame. After a short pause, her feet and his feet walk out of camera frame together.