High Praise for She A Chinese

The ViewLondon Review

Review byMatthew Turner24/02/2010
Opens Friday 26 February 2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 103 mins

Engaging, impressively directed drama with a strong script, a superb soundtrack and a terrific central performance from Lu Huang.

What’s it all about?
Written and directed by Xiaolu Guo, She, A Chinese stars Lu Huang as Li Mei, a young Chinese woman who’s bored with life in her Chinese village. After a brief dalliance with local boy made good Brother Qiang (Wu Leiming), Mei rejects the civil servant her mother wants her to marry and is raped by a trucker (Xiao Xianpeng) who she thought was her friend; however, when she leaves the village, she’s fired from her factory job for producing shoddy work and ends up in a salon-slash-brothel where she attracts the attentions of gangster Spikey (Wei Yi Bo).

When Spikey is killed in an attack, Mei takes his money and travels to London, where she winds up married to a kindly older man (Geoffrey Hutchings) who’s still in love with the memory of his dead wife. However, Mei finds her attentions drawn towards Rachid (Chris Ryman), who runs the local Indian takeaway.

The Good
The title of the film announces its allegorical intentions upfront and Mei’s continual exploitation does get a bit depressing after a while, but it’s to the credit of both Xiaolu Guo and Lu Huang that her various misadventures never seem forced, just as the people she meets seem real rather than stereotypes or caricatures. Indeed, the excellent script has an impressively naturalistic feel about it and the direction occasionally recalls the work of the Dardenne Brothers.

Lu Huang is excellent as Mei – her constantly impassive face leads you to think that she’s blindly accepting everything fate throws in her path, but she’s also more than capable of taking charge of her own destiny, even if the decisions she makes aren’t always the right ones. There’s also strong support from both Hutchings and Ryman, both of whom have intriguing relationships with Mei.

The Great
Guo also includes quirky captions that lend the film an American indie feel, heightened by a terrific punk-ish soundtrack that works surprisingly well. In addition, Guo orchestrates several memorable scenes (his quasi-fetishisation of Mei’s ‘borrowed’ red iPod is particularly interesting) and there are some beautiful shots.

Worth seeing?
This is an engaging, impressively directed and fantastically acted drama that’s well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.

High praise for director Xiao Lu Guo

The Golden Leopard at Locarno went to She, a Chinese, the second feature from the expatriate Chinese novelist Guo Xiaolu. Advance word skewed toward the negative, and a flashy trailer increased my pessimism. But the film dazzled me. It becomes clear almost immediately that its organising principle is not story or even style, but the force of Guo’s personality, which whips together diverse materials into a fluent commentary that transcends form. As the sullen, deadpan young protagonist Mei (Huang Lu) rides over assorted trials in rural China with a combination of strength and obliviousness, and then bolts from a guided tour to try her survival skills in the UK, Guo narrates her passage with funny chapter-heading intertitles, bursts of loud rock music (John Parish’s score is excellent), and comically rushed transitions. The emotional gap between the story upheavals and Mei’s inner life reminded me of several major filmmakers: Godard for the playful exploitation of the audience’s distance from the fiction; Sternberg for the loving fascination with surfaces that reveal nothing; and Renoir for the way that philosophical perspective is used to lighten a dark story’s mood. I have no idea why Guo’s considerable talent is lost on so many critics.

‘Ultra Violet for Sixteen Minutes’: 16:00 – Documentary.

“Totally engaging.” – Albert Maysles. Ultra Violet, former Warhol “superstar,” member of Salvador Dali’s intimate inner circle, and a significant artist herself, speaks of her life and of her rebirth. After breaking off an affair with painter Ed Ruscha, Ultra Violet finds herself clinically dead and seeking God’s forgiveness. Her spirit returns to her body, and she soon becomes a born-again Christian, then Mormon. In this film, she poses for a contemporary screen-test and speaks on her life, fame, and the relationship of art and religion, of artists and divine messengers. Includes photographs from her past and Andy Warhol’s screen-test of Ultra Violet from the 1960’s. Directed by David Henry Gerson. Edited by Dov Yellin. 16:00. Documentary Short. D>C> Independant Film Festival March 13 1PM