(Xin nuxing, a.k.a. New Woman). Inspired by the real-life suicide of actress Ai Xia, New Women pointedly addresses the struggles of Chinas 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 films 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 by various clueless, amorous, or villainously mustached men. Only slaves sell their bodies, she replies to another womans suggestion of a quicker way to earn money, a requirement made more urgent by her childs sickness. Yes, but if we women want to make a little money, what other path is open to us? the woman sadly counters. The films bleakness is shocking for its time and still eye-opening today, presenting a world of high-society swells consuming and discarding women like liquor bottles, with our new woman struggling to keep her child, and her talent, alive. We have no power to change this society, the heroine cries; her final shoutI want to live!proves the most courageous, and heartbreaking, of all. They were Ruan Lingyus final onscreen words.
Written by Sun Shiyi. Photographed by Zhou Daming. With Ruan Lingyu, Zheng Junli, Wang Naidong, Wang Moqiu. (106 mins, In Mandarin with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From China Film Archive)
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