"Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" may seem on thesurface like a purely political document. It is a certainly a condemnationof Chinese government's Cultural Youth Revolution policy that took teenagersaway from their homes in the 1960s and '70s and assigned them to practicalservitude in remote regions of the country.
But this tragic Everygirl allegory of a child "sentdown" to learn a practical trade for the good of the People is sopersonal and affecting, and told with so much heart, that even someonecompletely ignorant of those policies (color me guilty) can become enrapturedby the plight of young Wen Xiu.
Played by Lu Lu, a beautiful and sincere 15-year-old discoveredby actress-turned-director JoanChen, Xiu Xiu (as she is called by her friends)is a giddy, girlish, city-dweller whose bright eyes and sunshine smileare dampened when she is stripped from her family by this government programthat has long since outlived its usefulness, and delivered to a provincialcountryside to learn cavalry.
She finds herself sharing a tattered army surplus tenton a remote prairie hillside with a reclusive, weather-beaten Tibetan herdernamed Lao Jin (film rookie Lopsang) and quickly becomes miserable, scaredand lonely. Even though she is told she will be allowed to return aftersix months, the film follows her gradual loss of faith and innocence asmonths, then a couple years, go by.
Descending gradually, into devistating martyrdom, the oncehappy-go-lucky and sinless Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoh-shoh) becomes disillusioned,eventually turning to prostitution, thinking, in her naivete, that givingherself to the right military passerby to her modest tent on the Tibetanprairie might beget a pass back to her family.
Meanwhile, gentle, pensive and devoted Lao Jin -- who atfirst regards Xiu Xiu as a selfish, silly child -- wants desperately torescue the girl from the terrible path she's put herself on. But he isa bystander by nature and doesn't have the fortitude to do so. The besthe can muster are an few acts of defiance (he burns the shoes of an armyofficer while the officer defiles the girl).
Somehow one of them must find a way for her to escape thisdetrimental life. But redeption is not Xiu Xiu's fate.
Adapted for the screen by Chen (best known for "TwinPeaks") and her close friend (and biographer) Yan Geling from a shortstory Geling wrote for a contest in Taiwan (she won), "Xiu Xiu"is clearly a labor of love.
Taking to direction beautifully, Chen nourishes every frameof the film with an eye for breathtaking, panoramic photography (idyllichillsides of flowers; grey, storm-prone skies that drive home Xiu Xiu'sisolation) and a passionate knack for culling understated and deeply affectingperformances. She shot the picture on the sneak in Shanghai and Tibet,and subsequently she and the film have been banned from the country whereshe grew up during the era depicted in the film (she had friends who were"sent down" while she was trained as an actress).
Someday, when China sheds its autocratic, oppressive formof government, "Xiu Xiu" will likely be seen there as a mythicalarchetype of this period in the nation's history. But right now, for Westernaudiences, it serves as a moving and accomplished glimpse into a closedculture and one of the tolls that culture has taken on its people.
Run time: 99 mins
In Theaters: Thursday 16th November 2000
Distributed by: Stratosphere Entertainment
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 96%
Fresh: 23 Rotten: 1
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Director: Joan Chen
Starring: Xiaolu Li as Wenxiu, Lopsang as Lao Jin, Zheng Qian as Li Chuanbei, Jie Gao as Mother, Qianqian Li as Sister, Lü Yue as Father, Qian Qiao as Chen Li, Cheng Jiang as Rider A, Xiaoyu Yang as Girl, Xuejun Gu as Rider B, Huri as Holligan, Zhizhung Lik as Headquarter's Chief, Kun Zhang as Assistant, Shijin Li as Jeep Driver, Dong Jia as Yak Herder A, Yu Wang as Yak Herder B (as Wang Yue), Qiang Gao as Peddler, Xuelan Cao as Honey Dealer, Wenyuan Qin as Motorcycle Man, Xiaoying Tan as Tractor Man, Lu Zhong as Belt Man, Wenqi Hu as Janitor, Yayu Li as Nurse A, Min Du as Nurse B, Jiong Cao as Three Toes, Dashui Jia as Patient A, Chen Yu as Patient B, Luoyong Wang as Narrator (voice), Xiaolin Yu as Jeep Driver (voice)
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