Advancement of Women in Chinese Film
The Goddess and The Red Detachment of Women were both wonderful movies which explored the ways that women’s roles evolved in the early-mid 1900’s. In these movies, we saw women that moved from traditional family roles to more independent roles, giving them more freedom and power in a changing society. I will discuss how the two films explore women’s changing roles in two categories: relationships with men and in occupational roles. In this analysis, I will show that The Red Detachment of Women was more forceful and direct in portraying the advancement of Chinese women than The Goddess, which placed more emphasis on the value of women’s traditional roles.
The Goddess’s representation of relationships that women had with men did not seem to depict much advancement for women. As a prostitute; the woman in The Goddess was constantly controlled by an oppressive man, the gangster, and perhaps she was forced to go to bed with many other men like him. As the gangster said in the film, “The monkey king struggles but can’t jump out of the palm of the Buddha’s hand” (Harris 133). This phrase used by the gangster illustrates that the woman’s attempts to escape were feeble under his oppression. In this same scene, the cinematographer uses a low angle shot to show her trapped under the gangster’s legs, communicating to the audience his complete domination over her. Throughout the film the camera showed mostly high angle shots of the woman, which revealed her lack of power in the relationship. She did eventually break free from her male oppressor, but at a cost: she was left to the mercy of the patriarchal social order and system of law which eventually took away her freedom. Throughout the film, the woman was constantly controlled by the gangster and other men in patriarchal society, manifesting the lack of power women had in improving their status in relationships with other men.
The Goddess’s depiction of women’s evolving occupational roles placed an emphasis on the occupational role of mother as being superior to other forms of employment. The main character, an unnamed woman, worked as a prostitute to support her only son. Instead of relying on men and marriage like in traditional society, she used prostitution as a form of capitalism to control her own destiny. In a progressively modern society, the woman in The Goddess had many occupational options; for instance we are shown a scene of her entering a factory and then leaving. We don’t know why she didn’t end up working there, but this scene displays the difficulties for women to find a decent occupation at that time, especially uneducated women. She doesn’t go to school herself, but wants school for her son. As Ms. Harris said concerning the woman, “In her hopes and dreams, she imagines with great yearning a bright and glorious future for her child” (Harris 129). From this passage, it is apparent that all her efforts are focused on her role as a mother. Motherly roles in The Goddess were portrayed as a woman’s most important duty. The soundtrack in the film supports this idea by playing upbeat and happy music when she was with her son in a motherly role, but then playing melancholy and sad music while she wandered the streets in her chosen profession as a prostitute; this conveys the significance of the role of mother and the happiness that it brings. The film conveys that the changing modern roles of women were still very much tied to traditional family and motherly roles.
In The Red Detachment of Women, it seems that women in are depicted as more equal in their relationships to men, but are still reliant on them. The main character in the film, Qionghua, has a strong connection to her commander Hong Changqing; he gave her freedom, taught her to bridle her hatred for the good of the party, and also acted as the main role model in her life. As Robert Chi says, “Hong Changqing dominates Qionghua’s trajectory as savior, teacher, role model, disciplinarian, secret lover and symbolic creditor,” (Chi 190). Despite Qionghua’s strong role as a brave, bold, independent woman, at the beginning of the film she had to rely on her male mentor for almost everything. In the scene where he shows her a map of China, the camera shoots them both at a level angle, which shows that they are both equal in power. Also, after Hong Changqing is killed, Qionghua takes his bag, which represents her taking over his position in the army, thus revealing that she has risen to an equal level power and authority that he had. This film displays that modern women were still subject to a patriarchal system in which they at least initially had to rely on men, but could still achieve status and power equal to that of men.
The portrayal in The Red Detachment of Women of women’s occupational roles places value on personal independence and making occupational goals superior to that of motherly responsibilities. The main character Qionghua joins the women’s army in order to support herself and seek her own revenge. Originally she was a slave for her master Nan Batian, who is depicted in extremely hard and low angle lighting, letting us know that he was the ultimate enemy. However, in an extraordinary change in her social status, she flees from him, chooses a career as a soldier, and eventually defeats him. The movie places weight on her personal agenda to seek revenge, although it shows in the end that she does need to rely on others to accomplish her goals. Qionghua shows no desire for marriage or child bearing, placing sole emphasis on her soldiering and revenge. However, her friend Honglian chose marriage and motherhood. Honglian was very active in the war effort, still doing manual labor even when she was 8 months pregnant. When confronted by her husband about still working as a pregnant woman, there is a level camera angle of the two, signifying that even though she is pregnant, Honglian is still equal in power and ability to her husband. These two examples of women in a changing modern society revealed that women could be strong without the need of male care even in the late stages of pregnancy, and their contribution as working women was more important than their roles as mothers.
These two films were very similar in the fact that they both depicted women’s changing roles in modern society, although The Red Detachment of Women stressed abandoning traditional roles and embracing women’s independence much more than The Goddess. In The Goddess women were portrayed as repressed by men and not being able to achieve equality. However The Red Detachment of Women depicted women’s relationships with men as equal. In The Goddess, women’s occupational roles only enforced their more important role as mothers, but in contrast The Red Detachment of Women women’s occupations enforced their independence and was more important than motherly roles. Overall, The Goddess seemed to value a more traditional family role as an ideal for women, whereas The Red Detachment of Women placed much more prominence on the ideals of women’s advancement, independence, and equality.
Harris, Kristine, and Chris Berry. "The Goddess: Fallen Woman of Shanghai." Chinese Films in
Focus II. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008. 128-36. Print.
Chi, Robert, and Chris Berry. "The Red Detachment of Women: Resenting, Regendering,
Remembering." Chinese Films in Focus II. 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,
2008. 189-96. Print.
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