When schoolgirl Xiu Xiu is "sent down" from the big city to the country as part of an ill-advised 1970s Communist China skills-broadening program, her life begins as quaint, training horses in the wilds of the enormous country, helping out a nomadic wanderer named Lao Jin. When Xiu Xiu learns the program has fallen apart, things sour as she tries to get back home. Eventually, she becomes the whore of the countryside, and Lao Jin's tent her brothel. Painful and heart-wrenching, Xiu Xiu rises above its glacial pace, proving both entertaining and thought-provoking.

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