– October 14
This series of five films presented over the course of the Asia Week features two of the top cover girls of pre–World War II China: the screen icon Ruan Lingyu, whose starring roles in The Goddess and New Women, alongside male lead Zheng Junli, have been heralded by critics internationally; and the beloved Butterfly Wu (Hue Die), who is featured here in Rouge Tears, the 1938 talkie remake of The Goddess. The series also showcases the important historical epic The Spring River Flows East, codirected by Cai Chusheng and Zheng Junli, highly regarded for his work as an actor and director; and Crossroads, a comedy that marked the emergence of Zhao Dan and Bai Yang as major stars. Film series sponsor: Bonhams.
The films in the series are listed below.
Conversation and Film Screening
The Goddess (Shennü)
Wu Yonggang (China, 1934)
October 5, 7:00 PM
Silent film star Ruan Lingyu delivers one of her greatest, most luminous performances as a mother forced into prostitution in this classic of the Golden Age of Shanghai cinema. Splitting her time between rocking her infant son to sleep and prowling the streets for lecherous men, our virtuous heroine soon falls prey to a portly, violent pimp, who’ll stop at nothing to keep her under his sway. The film’s unblinking gaze at prostitution could make even jaded denizens of pre-Code Hollywood blush, while Ruan’s immortal performance combines the beauty and steel of contemporaries such as Stanwyck, Dietrich, and Harlow. With live accompaniment by Judith Rosenberg on piano.
This screening includes an in-person conversation between Paul Fonoroff, an expert on Chinese cinema and author of the new book Chinese Movie Magazines 1921–1951, and Peter Zhou, director of the C. V. Starr East Asian Library and assistant university librarian at UC Berkeley.
In conjunction with this screening, BAMPFA welcomes film expert Paul Fonoroff on the occasion of the launch of his most recent book, Chinese Movie Magazines 1921–1951, published by UC Press and drawn from the wealth of pictorial materials held in the C. V. Starr East Asian Library’s Paul Kendel Fonoroff Collection. A selection of rare magazine covers featured in the book will be on view this fall at BAMPFA, and Fonoroff will join us to share stories about his life as an avid collector and film critic and participate in a conversation with Peter Zhou, director of the East Asian Library and assistant university librarian.
New Women (Xin nuxing)
Cai Chusheng (China, 1935)
October 7, 4:00 PM
Inspired by the real-life suicide of actress Ai Xia, New Women pointedly addresses the struggles of China’s urban “new women” to survive independently; tragically, its tale of a talented woman hounded by gossip into suicide was mirrored by the death of its lead actress, the legendary Ruan Lingyu, who would kill herself only months after the film’s release. Ruan plays a strong-willed music teacher and single mother whose dreams of becoming an author (with a novel fittingly titled The Tomb of Love) are dashed. The film’s bleakness is shocking for its time and still eye-opening today.
With an introduction by Paul Fonoroff, an expert on Chinese cinema and author of the new book Chinese Movie Magazines 1921–1951.
The Spring River Flows East (Yijiang chunshui xiang dong liu)
Cai Chusheng, Zheng Junli (China, 1947)
October 11, 7:00 PM
Part I: Wartime Separation (Ba nian li luan); Part II: Darkness and Dawn (Tianliang qian-hou). Included on the Hong Kong Film Awards list of the greatest Chinese-language films of all time, this decades-spanning epic has been termed China’s Gone with the Wind. A married couple in Shanghai are separated during the chaos of the 1937 Japanese invasion and the Sino-Japanese War, with their fates reflecting the divided classes of the nation. The husband reinvents himself in Chongqing as a successful businessman, while his wife and family remain in Shanghai, stuck in poverty. The most politically provocative and militantly left-wing work made during the immediate postwar era, Spring River incorporates harrowing newsreel footage of wartime occupation that amplifies its sorrowful effect.
With an introduction by Andrew F. Jones, a UC Berkeley professor who teaches modern Chinese literature and media culture.
Rouge Tears (Yanzhi lei)
Wu Yonggang (Hong Kong, 1938)
October 12, 5:00 PM
This 1938 talkie remake of The Goddess offers a chance to see how another leading star, Butterfly Wu (Hue Die), interpreted the role made famous by the late Ruan Lingyu. Rouge Tears was made in Hong Kong under British colonial rule, during the flourishing of the Cantonese film industry at the start of the sound era. “It was precisely under such tumultuous and constantly shifting sociopolitical and technological circumstances that Wu [Yonggang] made his two film attempts (The Goddess and Rouge Tears) to deliver a humanist social expose through the trope of an illegal prostitute roaming Shanghai’s night streets” (Yiman Yang, Remaking Chinese Cinema).
Crossroads (Shizi jietou)
Shen Xiling (China, 1937)
October 14, 4:30 PM
This popular film marked the emergence of Zhao Dan and Bai Yang as major stars. Shen’s promising career was cut short by his early death in wartime Chongqing in 1940. “A funny, inventive Depression comedy about the trials facing unemployed young graduates in thirties Shanghai. The central fraught romance comes straight from Hollywood, but the overall realism and the hints of looming political turmoil are purely Chinese. . . . Location shooting on the streets of Shanghai is used whenever possible, and the film enhances its sense of direct contemporary relevance by inserting several brief documentary sequences” (Scott Meek and Tony Rayns, Electric Shadows).
Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Korean, Southeast Asian, Himalayan & Central Asian, Islamic & Middle Eastern
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