Ruan Lingyu (1910-1935) was China's first film actress to win extensive praise from the public. She made her film debut as the leading role in Husband and Wife in Name in 1927, and she played in 29 films altogether. Her appearance marked the turning point when Chinese cinema rid itself of the fetters of the stylized performances typical of contemporary dramas and took to the road of realistic performance.
During her short life, Ruan Lingyu created images of women of different social strata including widows and weak women who were maltreated to death under the feudal code of ethics; prostitutes exploited by despotic gentry and sons of rich families; naive, pure girls of humble birth; young women struggling for free marriage; advanced women who integrated themselves with the laboring people and fought for the interests of the nation; and old women, girl students, a women writer, a flower girl and a social beauty.
Ruan was excellent in the role of a humiliated and hurt young mother in The Goddess. She fully expressed the young mother's complicated psychological state in the presence of or behind people and her kindness, honesty, and spirit of resistance when facing her son. The film shines with an eternal artistic brilliance, which was evident when it was shown abroad in recent years. "After being treated by the director," said a French movie critic, "the depressed beauty of Ruan Lingyu and her simple, unadorned performing skills radiate brilliance. The most brilliant part of her performance calls back to mind the works of the German film director Pabast G. W..
Ruan Lingyu indeed evolved a unique style -- sincere, simple, natural, and fresh. She was full of enthusiasm, and her consummate skills and unique performances enabled her to reach the highest level of the performing art of Chinese cinema in the silent film period.
(chinaculture.org January 18, 2004)