Image Entertainment // 1999 // 100 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // May 11th, 2000
The Sent Down Girl.
Xiu Xiu is a very powerful film, set in the period of China's so called "Cultural Revolution." Whatever Mao believed, in fact the Cultural Revolution was pretty much the craziest act ever perpetrated by a leader against his people in all of history. People like Stalin gave it the old college try, but in the end volume counts, and Mao has the numbers.
Xiu Xiu played, interestingly enough, by Lu Lu, is a beautiful and innocent young girl, crushed to death by the machinery of Mao's revolution. This film is the story of her short life; from the time she leaves her family until her desperate and heart-rending death.
Xiu Xiu is initially sent to a rural headquarters where she is to be taught the art of horse training. But a year later she is sent, supposedly for six months, to a distant outpost with an older man, Lau Jin played by Lopsang, a Mongol who was neutered in his younger days as a prisoner of war. At first, he seems very odd, silent, and scary, and Xiu is not sure what will happen. But, eventually they come to know each other and develop a certain rapport. It is clear that, despite his very reserved nature, that Lau Jin cares for her very much and he does his best to protect her.
As Xiu's six months comes and goes, it becomes clear that she won't be going back home, or even back to headquarters any time soon. She begins hearing from traders that the other girls have begun getting permission to go home, the prettiest and richest ones first. It seems that they are trading money and sexual favors for permits to return to the city. Growing more depressed and home sick, Xiu decides that she has little choice but to do the same. Being poor, she only has one thing to offer.
But, as time goes by and the "visitors" become more aggressive and violent, it becomes even more apparent that she is just being used. Lopsang watches in disgust, unable to do anything to prevent these events. Eventually Xiu becomes pregnant and Lopsang takes her back to headquarters where she is given an abortion, and then raped again while recovering. Lopsang does his best to protect her, but is unable to, given the circumstances.
At this point, Lopsang just takes her back to their camp, in the middle of winter. Xiu now knows that, even if she could get back home, that her life is basically over now, that she would not be accepted. In an act of immense love, Lopsang releases her from her misery by shooting her. Then, unable to live with this loss, he takes his own life. It's the stuff Shakespearean tragedies are made of, and it is every bit as powerful.
This 1.66:1 anamorphic video is of pretty high quality. Given that this type of film would have had almost zero chance of getting an anamorphic treatment in the past, I'm not complaining at all. There are some beautiful "big sky" moments as Xiu and Lopsang work out on the steppe, with the mountains in the distance and the fields full of green grass and colorful flowers. I didn't notice any significant flaws in the video, though I have to admit I had something in my eye there a couple of times, so I might have missed some. This isn't the kind of film you watch to nit pick about the transfer, in my opinion.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack was good enough. It's in Mandarin Chinese, with English subtitles. The subtitles were well done, easy to read and seemed to get the point across without loosing too much of the gist of the scenes.
I thought that Lu Lu did an excellent job as the main character; though, as you probably know by now, I'm a complete sucker for beautiful Asian women so perhaps my judgment is skewed. She is exactly the angelically sweet type of girl who can make the horrors of this story effective, as she becomes jaded and embittered by her situation. You can't help but feel for her.
And Lopsang also does an excellent job as Xiu's taciturn, but immensely decent friend and protector. Though he is not the emotional type, you can see how conflicted he is about what he sees happening to Xiu. And, of course, as someone who has been without working equipment for most of his life, the presence of this nubile young woman causes him much inner pain, as she represents what he has never really known.
As a DVD, this disc is somewhat lacking, in that it is only the most bare bones possible. The menu supports chapter selection, and that's it. I would have dearly loved to have had a commentary track from director Joan Chen. Female directors are still distressingly rare, and stories of this caliber are equally rare, so it would have been very nice to have heard her thoughts and comments on the content. I think that only a woman could have made Xiu Xiu the quiet but powerful film that it is.
Okay, so it doesn't have any extras at all and it's only a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, but who cares? Give me content of this high quality, and make them anamorphic, and I won't complain. Feel free to put the extras on, but if this is the only way I can get it, I'll take what I can get. A film like this, which rips your heart out and dances on it, is gift enough. So grab a box Kleenex and a squeegee, and see Xiu Xiu this weekend!
Acquitted, with the understanding that the defendants will produce more such evidence. This one rates far, far higher than the cold, hard numbers would indicate, so the final judgment is pretty high. I truly enjoyed this one.
Review content copyright © 2000 Dean Roddey; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.66:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Mandarin)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R