Film screening: “Goddess – Chinese Women on Screen” @ Asia Society New York from November 9 to December 8, 2012

Asia Society New York announces the presentation of a film series to celebrate major screen divas in the history of Chinese cinema. The title of the series, Goddess: Chinese Women on Screen, is inspired by one of the selections, the 1934 silent classic The Goddess, featuring Ruan Lingyu—the “Chinese Greta Garbo.” Nine films from China and Hong Kong will be screened in 35mm print format. The series will run from November 9 to December 8, 2012 at Asia Society, 725 Park Avenue (at East 70 Street), New York City.

Clockwise from top left: Gong Li, Ruan Lingyu, Maggie Cheung, Xie Fang, Xue Jinghua, Brigitte Lin.

Chinese cinema has produced some of the most memorable and mesmerizing female screen icons. This film series pays tribute to the most significant divas in the industry’s over 100 years of history, beginning with the silent period. It includes unforgettable performances by Li Lili (1915-2005), Ruan Lingyu (1910-1935), Xie Fang (1935- ), Liu Xiaoqing (1950- ), Brigitte Lin (1954- ), Maggie Cheung (1964- ), Gong Li (1965- ), among others. The series recognizes the achievement of Chinese actresses, surveys the representation of women on screen across generations, and highlights the strength, resilience, beauty, love, and desire of Chinese women. The films in this series are all major Chinese classics, each with at least one woman in a prominent role.

Series curator La Frances Hui spoke about the shifting image of women on screen, “From innocent women forced into prostitution due to economic oppression in the ’30s, to androgynous revolutionary heroines during the Cultural Revolution, to women who make bold expression of sexual desire after the ’80s, the portrayals of female characters in these classics speak much about the changing representation of Chinese women’s sexuality over time.”

To view trailers and for more information on the series, visit

Tickets: $7 members; $9 students/seniors; $11 nonmembers. Series discount available. Visit or call 212-517-ASIA (2742) for more information.

The film series is programmed by La Frances Hui, Film Curator of Asia Society. This series is part of Citi Series on Asian Arts and Culture. Additional support is provided by People’s Republic of China’s Ministry of Culture, China Film Archive, and the Consulate General of the People’s Republic of China in New York.

PROGRAM SCHEDULE (all films with English subtitles)

The Goddess Dir. WU Yonggang. 1934. China. Silent. B/W. 76 min. 35mm. With RUAN Lingyu. Friday, November 9, 2012, 6:30 pm A struggling single mother in 1930s Shanghai resorts to prostitution in order to provide for her young son. In an oppressive society that will never give her and her beloved child a chance, she is doomed to a tragic fate as she fights a hoodlum who steals her money and makes her his kept woman. The Goddess features a nuanced and heart-wrenching performance by the queen of silent cinema Ruan Lingyu — often called the “Chinese Greta Garbo” — in her most celebrated role. At once vulnerable and resilient, the heroine embodies gender and class struggle and the motherly ideal.

New Women Dir. CAI Chusheng. 1935. China. Silent (with music track). B/W. 105 min. 35mm. With RUAN Lingyu. Sunday, November 11, 2012, 4:00 pm Independent and ambitious, Wei Ming (Ruan Lingyu) is a modern single mother, music teacher, and emerging writer. In a world where women are often treated as sexual preys, Wei faces publishers who are eager to sell her sexual image and a school patron who gets her fired for rejecting his advances. A sick child forces her to scramble for money but the only way to obtain quick cash is prostitution. Unable to make ends meet, Wei is driven to suicide. At her death bed, she awakes to a newly found courage to live. Actress Ruan Lingyu, who ironically took her own life soon after this film’s release, gives a powerful and courageous performance portraying a woman who struggles against sexual oppression and economic deprivation.

Hibiscus Town Dir. XIE Jin. 1986. China. Color. 130 min. 35mm. With LIU Xiaoqing. Saturday, November 17, 2012, 4:00 pm Yuyin (Liu Xiaoqing) and her husband are happily married and run a roadside bean curd stall. During the 1964 Four Clean-ups Movement, they are branded new rich peasants. When their house and business are taken away, Yuyin’s husband commits suicide. Now a street sweeper, Yuyin encounters Qin Shutian (Jiang Wen), an intellectual who has arrived in this town to collect local folk songs only to be also branded a “bad element.” The two fall in love while political turmoil continues to ravage their personal lives. Made a decade after the Cultural Revolution, the film charts the political trajectory of a nation through the experiences of small town individuals.

Daybreak Dir. SUN Yu. 1933. China. Silent. B/W. 96 min. 35mm. With LI Lili. Tuesday, November 20, 2012, 6:30 pm Ling Ling (Li Lili) leaves her war-ravaged rural fishing village for a better life in Shanghai. She soon confronts the dark side of life in this metropolis marked by poverty and material decadence. After being raped by her factory boss, Ling Ling seeks help from a stranger who sells her to a brothel. Now a prostitute, Ling Ling has not forgotten her roots and provides for those who are even less fortunate. She is able to find her ultimate redemption as a revolutionary martyr. Director Sun Yu, a member of the progressive left of his time, masterfully juxtaposes the punishing reality of Shanghai with idyllic images of Ling Ling’s rural past. The film looks longingly at lost traditional values and offers hope for a renewed society.

Two Stage Sisters Dir. XIE Jin. 1964. China. Color. 107 min. 35mm. With XIE Fang, CAO Yindi. Wednesday, November 28, 2012, 6:30 pm One of the last films made before the Cultural Revolution, Two Stage Sisters follows the lives of two female opera performers, Chunhua (Xie Fang) and Yuehong (Cao Yindi), from 1935 to 1950 as they leave a small countryside folk opera troupe and join a theater company in Shanghai. Their relationship is put on trial as ideological differences develop over a period of turbulent political and social upheavals. Director Xie Jin, known for his women’s pictures, is one of the most successful filmmakers in Chinese cinema history, having weathered major political storms in a career that spanned half a century.

The Red Detachment of Women Dir. FU Jie, PAN Wenzhan. 1970. China. Color. 101 min. 35mm. With XUE Jinghua. Friday, November 30, 2012, 6:30 pm During the Cultural Revolution, only a small number of state-approved yangbanxi, model operas that adhered to revolutionary ideologies, were staged. One of them was the ballet opera The Red Detachment of Women, about a peasant girl who breaks away from an oppressive landlord and joins the Red Army. The performance, originally staged in 1964, was adapted to film and made the ballerina Xue Jinghua an instant star. The virtuosic and ecstatic dance sequences featuring revolutionary heroines carrying rifles and clenching fists in army shorts have formed some of the most lasting and iconic revolutionary imageries. This popular ballet opera, which also features music that is familiar to Chinese of all generations, is still being performed in China today.

Red Sorghum Dir. ZHANG Yimou. 1987. China. Color. 88 min. 35mm. With GONG Li. Sunday, December 2, 2012, 4:00 pm In the countryside of Shandong province in the 1930s, a young peasant girl, Jiu’er (Gong Li), is arranged to marry a leper, a much older man who owns a winery. After her husband’s death, Jiu’er takes over the running of the business. Her life is completely changed when a man she had an unusual sexual encounter with reemerges, followed by the Japanese invasion. Stunningly shot with luscious color and imagery, it was the first Fifth Generation film to enjoy popular success at home and it won the Golden Bear (Best Picture) award at the Berlin International Film Festival. A directorial and acting debut for Zhang Yimou and Gong Li, respectively, the film catapulted both to international stardom and launched a series of collaborations between the two. This film is an adaptation of 2012 Nobel Literature Prize winner Mo Yan’s novel of the same name.

Ashes of Time Redux Dir. WONG Kar Wai. 2008. Hong Kong. Color. 93 min. 35mm. With Maggie CHEUNG, Brigitte LIN. Friday, December 7, 2012, 6:30 pm Renowned director Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love2046) takes the martial arts period genre to a new height with this visual feast set in a vast desert where lone warriors and forsaken women roam while being perpetually trapped in devastating memories. The ever-shifting desert landscape and the abstract — almost impressionistic — action sequences, shot by Christopher Doyle, convey deeply troubled and roaring emotions. The ensemble cast features some of the most admired Chinese actors including Maggie Cheung, Brigitte Lin, Tony Leung, and Leslie Cheung. This 2008 version, also by Wong, is a revision of his 1994 original.

Center Stage Dir. Stanley KWAN. 1992. Hong Kong. Color. 126 min. 35mm. With Maggie CHEUNG. Saturday, December 8, 2012, 4:00 pm The life, death, love, and pain of Chinese silent cinema starlet Ruan Lingyu (The GoddessNew Women — both in this series) are brought to life in this biopic featuring an unflinching performance by Maggie Cheung, another all-time screen sensation. Ruan, called the “Chinese Greta Garbo,” enjoyed a glorious career but was so troubled by the tabloids’ reporting of her love life that she committed suicide at the age of 25. The 29 films she left behind have immortalized her screen persona. Cheung plays Ruan with total abandon and fully embodies the suffering and passion of her forebear. The film won her the Best Actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival. It pays tribute not only to the queen of silent cinema but also to the golden age of Chinese cinema. 

About Asia Society  Founded in 1956 by John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Asia Society is a nonprofit, nonpartisan educational institution. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today. Asia Society is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City.