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  1. Culture
8 October 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

LFF #4 — She, a Chinese

From the London Film Festival: continental drift

By Daniel Trilling

She, a Chinese
dir: Xiaolu Guo

Not too sure what to make of this one — though I think it probably falls into the category of “nice idea, shame about the film”. Xiaolu Guo is the author of two well-received novels about young Chinese women who have grown up during the country’s rapid transformation. The lives of her characters resemble Guo’s own trajectory, from a childhood in rural China, to working in the Beijing film industry, to living in London.

She, a Chinese follows the same pattern, but its protagonist, Li Mei, pictures the harsher side of China’s economic miracle. A disaffected teen more interested in listening to her iPod than helping her mother with chores, Mei runs away to Chongqing, where she ends up working as a prostitute. She then moves to London, where she gets a visa by marrying an old Englishman, though the relationship soon disintegrates.

Unfortunately the angry young woman narrative that worked well in her books falls flat on screen. Are we supposed to feel as listless about Mei as she looks? We rush through too many different settings for the relations between characters to develop; if that’s a comment on the transience of migrant life, then other elements, such as the experience of the cities Mei passes through, are not strong enough to make up for it. Having said that, the film creates a nice affinity between the backstreets of Chongqing and the London takeaway shop in which Mei ends up living. Plus, there’s one fantastic shot: a slow pan of the view in Chongqing, a sense-defying sprawl of large but mediocre tower blocks and endless grey smog.

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