Xiu Xiu the Sent Down Girl
Actress Joan Chen, who made her mark in David Lynch's popular TV series Twin Peaks, went all the way back to China for her directorial debut, only to have the film banned there for political and sexual content (at least according to the DVD packaging, released on disc from A-Pix via Image Entertainment). Based on a story called "Tian Yu" by Yan Ge-Ling and co-scripted by Chen, the tale is set in 1975 during a national movement to distribute volunteer urban kids to rural areas for cultural intermingling. Xiu Xiu is a happy schoolgirl who goes to the country, even though she has to leave behind her family and the boy who has a crush on her (and who narrates the film, a lá The Virgin Suicides). There, Xiu Xiu (Lu Lu Lopsang) is assigned as an assistant to an isolated horse-herder. Soon her idealism fades and she just wants to go home, but bureaucratic impediments keep her out on the range. There, the herder falls in love with her but never expresses it. Meanwhile, Xiu Xiu is degraded by a series of functionaries who visit the tent and force sex on her with a promise of expediting her transfer back home. They are all, of course, lying. Eventually, Xiu Xiu becomes jaded and coarse and ends up pregnant, and in a bizarre act of self-destruction she convinces the herder to help her in an unpredictable way. Xiu Xiu is a bleak tale paradoxically told beautifully, and the acting is very good; Lopsang is excellent at charting the emotional stages of her character as she descends into the depths. The film doesn't "feel" like the usual Chinese movie, such as those directed by Zhang Yimou, perhaps because Chen brought a certain observed Hollywood professionalism and narrative clarity to the project, which she also produced. Xiu Xiu is a good movie, but it might not sit well with the usual Chinese movie buffs who may be tempted to view it as too Hollywood. The film is critical of Chinese social policy, but without being doctrinaire about it; in Chen's presentation, these are essentially people caught up in power-relationships that they have to learn to navigate. This A-Pix release offers virtually no extras, but it has a beautiful 1.66:1 transfer, with rich greens and blues, and no blemishes; audio is Dolby 2.0 Surround. The English subtitles come with the print, and there are no other subtitles. The static menu offers 12 chapters and it isn't easy to use (you have to go all the way through the chapters to find a "play movie" button that works). Still, this one's worth the effort. Snap-case.