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(1999) (Lu Lu, Lopsang) (R)

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Drama: A young girl sent to work with a hermitic horse herder as part of China's Cultural Revolution soon realizes that she must take drastic measures to get back home.
It's 1975 China, and as part of the Cultural Revolution, city youths are sent down into the countryside for manual labor so that they can better serve their government. As such, Wen Xiu (LU LU), a naive, but happy teenager better known as Xiu Xiu, leaves her home in Cheng-du and heads off to a training camp with many other students, sad to leave her family, but excited to be going on a trip.

That excitement soon disappears, however, as after a year of training, she's sent off to a remote and nearly barren outpost to work with Lao Jin (LOPSANG), a veteran horse herder. Promised that she'll be there only for six months and will then head an all-girl cavalry unit, Xiu Xiu isn't happy to see that she and Lao Jin will share a single, ramshackle tent as their home.

While her knowledge that he was castrated during an earlier war reassures her that he won't make uninvited advances, she's still quite shy around him, and he's not quite sure how to deal with his unusual and uncommon human companion. Nonetheless, the two eventually become something of friends, with her naive and girlish ways eventually breaking through his otherwise solemn demeanor.

Yet, the months pass and Xiu Xiu realizes that no one is coming to relieve her. Eventually learning that the cavalry was never to be, she quickly becomes despondent and will do anything to get back home. When a roving peddler (GAO QIANG) informs her that students such as her can do so if they're well-connected or can perform "other" duties, she reluctantly lets him have sex with her in the belief that he'll pull the necessary strings to insure her return.

He doesn't, of course, and when word gets out that she's willing to do whatever it takes to get back home, a variety of men arrive to take advantage of her sexual offering, a point that troubles Lao Jin. Nonetheless, and for various reasons, he doesn't intervene. As this continues for some time, however, the two eventually arrive at a point of desperation that will change the course of their lives forever.

Unless they have an interest in China or its cultural revolution, it's highly unlikely.
For strong sexual content.
  • LU LU plays an initially innocent and naive girl whose realization that she must take drastic measures to get back home eventually leads her to prostitute herself. Along the way she cusses some.
  • LOPSANG plays the older and previously castrated hermit who's to be her teacher. Although he comes to enjoy her company, he does nothing to prevent her from having sex with the various men who visit her.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    An impressive enough directorial debut, actress Joan Chen's "Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl" may draw some curiosity due to its odd and awkward title, but will certainly be best known for the controversy it's generated in China where it was shot. It seems that to shoot a film there, one has to have total government approval of a project's script and final cut, and when the former didn't receive it, Chen decided to shoot the film anyway, guerilla style. As such, she's drawn the wrath of the Chinese government.

    Ironically, while the film is somewhat of a muted indictment of the effects the country's cultural revolution had on its people in the 1960's and '70's, it barely mentions the country by name and the remote Tibetan locales that serve as most of the film's backdrops offer no identifiable features to allow the viewer to know what they're seeing. While it's not quite much ado about nothing, the reaction is certainly more brouhaha than necessary.

    Of course a film showing a government's social action leading to a young girl prostituting herself -- and ultimately worse -- certainly isn't the makings of what a country's tourism board would use. With the rest of the humanitarian-related flak that China's received over the recent years, this clearly isn't what they need (although it's debatable if it's what they deserve) and that's probably a big part of the uproar surrounding this film.

    In essence a two-character story, the film follows the "odd couple" relationship of a young and naive girl, with a solemn and emasculated horse herder and the effects of her descent into madness of sorts on both. As such, it's an unusual twist on the old Romeo and Juliet theme. Instead of two star-crossed lovers, however, we have a mostly one-sided platonic love story, although fate and forces beyond their control still manage to yield similarly disturbing results.

    Since the screenplay by Chen and screenwriter Yan Geling -- who adapts her own novella "Tian Yu" (Heavenly Bath) -- doesn't offer a great deal of substantial filler, and considering that one character mainly reacts and doesn't say much, the film relies heavily on its visual elements and the actors' nonverbal mannerisms to tell most of the story.

    Chen -- best known for her appearances in "The Last Emperor" and TV's "Twin Peaks" -- clearly has an eye for direction, and certainly doesn't skimp on the film's visual symbolism. The desolate countryside represents what the government has done to Xiu Xiu and millions of other kids, while the shots and mentioning of various approaching storms signify the troubles and danger lurking down the road toward which the story is dragging its characters.

    While all of that sounds either terribly depressing or menacingly dramatic, to be truthful, the film occasionally bogs down due to its often slow pace and the aforementioned lack of "filler" elements. As such, audiences may find themselves getting restless at certain moments.

    The symbolism and the obvious route headed toward inevitable trouble do keep things mildly interesting (although the pace and one's interest does finally pick up near the end), but the film could have used some additional scenes -- not to add length, but to replace existing dull or repetitive ones. For instance, despite all the talk about the horse herding, training and the possibility of the all-girl cavalry, we don't see any of it -- and not much of the horses at that -- during the six plus month "schooling" period.

    Although it's clear that the film obviously wasn't intended to be "The Horse Whisperer," a few scenes related to that would have helped the film during its slower moments and possibly also could have provided for some much needed comic relief to offset the serious-minded drama. Beyond that, some brief, bookend voice-over narration from Xiu Xiu's former suitor shows signs of the story's literary roots, but doesn't have much impact -- for good or bad -- on the proceedings.

    The performances, however, are first-rate. Making her screen debut in a leading role after two prior cameos, young actress Lu Lu has the unenviable, but certainly noteworthy task of playing a character that goes through a massive dramatic arc over a relatively short time.

    Equally as believable in both appearance and demeanor as the naive young teen and the "world weary," but steadfast in her hopes prostitute, Lu Lu delivers an incredibly strong and disturbing performance. For not only does she allow the audience to feel sorry for her and her dashed dream, but she also makes the moviegoer feel dislike or even hatred for what she does to herself and to Lao Jin.

    Inhabiting that character is Tibetan actor Lopsang, who must do most of his acting in a reactive rather than proactive fashion. While that usually leads to a passive characterization, that's perfectly suitable for this role. Playing a man who falls for Xiu Xiu in a platonic, near father-like way, Lopsang effortlessly allows the audience to feel his pain and sorrow, and that's without the opportunity of utilizing many words.

    While the picture won't be for everyone and is certainly anything but happy, the acting is superb, Chen's direction is quite good for a novice, and the film's technical merits -- from cinematographer Lu Yue's lensing to Johnny Chen's haunting score -- are first-rate.

    Although we almost always refrain from giving depressing films -- like this one and others such as "Leaving Las Vegas" -- really high scores simply because while they can be admired, they're not a lot of fun to watch, we'll still give "Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl" a 6.5 out of 10.

    Here's a quick look at the content found in this R-rated, subtitled drama. A teenager, desperate to get home and under the belief that if she has sex with men they'll help her, turns to prostitution. As such, we see several sexual encounters (one of which is briefly graphic) with related sounds, movement and some nudity. Some brief nonsexual nudity also occurs.

    Profanity (in English subtitles) is heavy due to 1 use of the "f" word, while other profanities and colorful language also occur. A character has an abortion (with some bloody results) and a young man has sex with her just moments later. Thus, he and the others who take advantage of her (along with her eventually willingness to equally participate) have bad attitudes.

    In the end, two people are dead, one from a requested gun shot, the other from a suicide (we hear, but don't see both). Beyond some other brief struggles and some smoking, the rest of the film's categories are relatively void of any major objectionable content. As always, however, should you still be concerned about the film's appropriateness, we suggest that you more closely examine the listed content.

  • A peddler asks Lao Jin if he has a case of liquor for him.
  • A doctor/nurse's hands are very bloody as is a bowl of water while cleaning up after performing an abortion on Xiu Xiu.
  • A boy gropes Xiu Xiu during a movie.
  • Some approaching men tell Lao Jin that "you pee like a woman" (related to his former castration).
  • A peddler, who may be involved in the black market, has sex with Xiu Xiu telling her that he'll help get her back home in exchange for it. Instead, he tells others about her, and soon a steady stream of men show up to have sex with her (with no intent of helping her).
  • Some viewers may not like the fact that Xiu Xiu has an abortion.
  • A person prepares to shoot themselves in the foot so that they can be "discharged" and sent back home. When they can't do it, they ask another person to shoot them. That person does (we hear the shot, but don't see it), and then shoots themselves (again we hear the shot, but don't see it), with both ending up dead.
  • Machine guns/Tank: Briefly seen in a black and white movie shown to the students.
  • Rifle: Carried by Lao Jin and occasionally used to ward off others (by threatening to shoot or firing a warning shot).
  • Rifle: Used to shoot and kill a person (their desire) and then by the shooter to commit suicide (both are heard, but not seen).
  • Phrases (in English subtitles): "Screwing around" (sexual), "Bastard," "Scum," "Jerk," "Piss," "Balls" (testicles), "Whore," "Raising hell" and "Shut up."
  • None.
  • A scene has a bit of suspenseful music in it.
  • None.
  • (In English subtitles): At least 1 "f" word, 2 "s" words, 10 hells and 2 damns are used as exclamations.
  • We see Xiu Xiu's bare back as she bathes in a small metal tub, and we briefly see her bare butt as she stands up.
  • Xiu Xiu tells a boy, who apparently groped her during a movie, "Go feel up your grandma." He then meanly asks who'd want to "feel you up."
  • We briefly see the side of Xiu Xiu's bare butt as she undresses.
  • A peddler tries to seduce Xiu Xiu, and when she says no, he tells her not to be afraid. He then starts to take off her clothes and says "Give it to me" as we hear her heavy breathing. We then see the bottom of her breasts as he puts his hands on them. They kiss and it's then implied that they have sex.
  • Another man arrives, and promising he can get Xiu Xiu back home, has sex with her. As such, we see him on top of her with movement and brief cutaway shots of nudity. After a while, however, we see her bare breasts along with other movement and hear sounds. As he continues, this man says, "You're as soft as dough...I'll pound the hell out of you" and we see more views of her breasts as well as movement.
  • It's implied that she has sex with yet another man and she tells Lao Jin that she'll "sleep with others" to get back home.
  • Another man shows up in the middle of the night and has sex with Xiu Xiu while Lao Jin is just on the other side of a sheet dividing their tent. We then graphically see this man having sex with her from behind as he stands (with movement and sounds and brief glimpses of her breasts).
  • After Lao Jin calls her a "whore," Xiu Xiu mentions that he's "not getting any."
  • We see part of Xiu Xiu's bare butt as she washes herself from a small bowl and then see the top of her bare butt as she sits nude in that bowl.
  • A nurse/doctor mentions that Xiu Xiu was quiet during her abortion, but probably "made plenty of sounds when she was screwing around" and later say (what looked like was written in subtitles) "If it was a horse, she'd still want it."
  • It's implied that a man has sex with Xiu Xiu just moments after she's had an abortion.
  • Lao Jin smokes some self-rolled cigarettes (around three times), while some miscellaneous characters also smoke.
  • Xiu Xiu's parents tearfully say good-bye to her as she leaves.
  • The overall historical accuracy of this part of the cultural revolution in China.
  • Why Xiu Xiu turned to prostitution and why Lao Jin did nothing to stop her.
  • Abortion -- Xiu Xiu has one.
  • Some war violence occurs in a black and white movie shown to the kids.
  • There's talk that Lao Jin "lost his manhood" (was castrated) during a prior war.
  • As several men approach their camp and as Xiu Xiu bathes in an outdoor, jury-rigged bathtub, Lao Jin aims his rifle at them and then fires a warning shot that finally gets his point across to them and they leave.
  • Lao Jin purposefully burns a shoe belonging to one of Xiu Xiu's "serviced" men.
  • Lao Jin aims his rifle at several men who then run away.
  • After Lao Jin realizes that a man has had sex with Xiu Xiu right after she's had an abortion, he struggles with others to get to that man, and once he does, he tosses him around the room a bit and then chases after him with a crutch.
  • A person prepares to shoot themselves in the foot so that they can be "discharged" and sent back home. When they can't do it, they ask another person to shoot them. That person does and kills the first person (we hear, but don't see the shot) and the shooter then shoots himself, committing suicide (again we hear the shot, but don't see it).

  • Reviewed May 27, 1999 / Posted June 4, 1999

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