Street Angels, the most celebrated Chinese musical of the 1930s, was released in Shanghai in July 1937 just as full-scale war broke out with Japan in northern China. Its themes—sexual and economic exploitation offset by fun and camaraderie—were at once shocking and entertaining. Set in the slums of Shanghai in 1935, the film presents the precarious lives of the urban lower classes in a tragicomic mode. War looms in the background of this story of a refugee singer. The Japanese army was soon to invade Shanghai, but, to accommodate China’s censors, the film never mentions the enemy by name.
Synopsis: Teenaged songstress Zhou Xuan sings two hit songs in director Yuan Muzhi’s masterpiece. At the center of the these “street angels” is a young woman who has fled fighting in the Northeast only to find herself threatened again in Shanghai. She seeks refuge from her abusers with her lover across the alley, played by heartthrob Zhao Dan, and other downtrodden friends. But will Xiao Hong and her sister, who has been forced into prostitution, be able to escape?
The film showcases the popularity of film musicals, the charm and charisma of its "golden voice" star, the multiple influences of Hollywood on the Chinese talkies, and the violent realities of 1930s China. In Mandarin, with English subtitles.