Xiu Xiu:the Sent Down Girl
Directed by Joan Chen from an award-winning novella banned in China because of political and sexual content, "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" is a powerful love story. Between 1967 and 1976, nearly 8 million Chinese youths were "sent down" for specialized training to the remotest corners of the country. Before being sent down, the young and beautiful Xiu Xiu dreams of becoming a horse trainer in the wide open plains of Tibet, far away from her busy city home. Her journey begins in a training camp in the isolated plains with a solitary and mysterious man. Slowly, Xiu Xiu discovers that she is unlikely to ever see her home again without a wealthy sponsor. Her world becomes a horrifying cage, where "patrons" promise her escape in exchange for her sexual compromise. This is one girl's story and a compassionate deed that inspired one special man and everyone who hears her tale.
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The DVD itself is not very good because it didn't have any extras at all. It would have been really helpful if there was a commentary by the director and perhaps a background on how the movie was made. It leaves one even saddier and emptier.
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What elevates this story above what we have seen many times before is the striking beauty of the Tibetan countryside and the fine characterizations of both Xiu Xiu and Lao Jin. Lao Jin is a "gelding," made fun of by others, a man of quiet disposition who falls in love with his beautiful young charge, but stands aside because of his impotence. Xiu Xiu has an imperial nature natural to favored girls everywhere, be they Japanese "princesses" or American "valley girls," a nature very well depicted by the script and very well acted out by Lu Lu, whose delicate beauty and spicy temperament clash well with Lao Jin's Taoist stoicism. At one point he remarks wisely that "every place is the same," meaning of course that it is what we bring to the place that really matters. But his wisdom is completely lost on the teenaged girl who wants and needs society and all that it has to offer. And so, the underlying "love affair" between the two can never be...except...as it is in the end.
Lopsang's performance is entirely convincing and Lu Lu is fascinating to watch. Joan Chen did a fine job with both of them while managing to keep politics and political agendas in the background. She concentrated on the human tragedy and made it universal. Both of her central characters had flaws that in some way led to the great sadness that they experienced, and yet they were not to blame. In this naturalistic expression we are reminded of the tragedies of novelists Thomas Hardy and Theodore Dreiser; and of course Chen was influenced by the work of Chinese director Zhang Yimou, in particular his sad, but captivating Raise the Red Lantern (1991) in which a beautiful girl is consumed and brutalized by societal forces of a different nature.
This film misses being a masterpiece because of a hurried resolution leading to an ending that needed a bit more shaping. Nonetheless this is an arresting and compelling drama, beautifully filmed and sensitively directed. But be forewarned. "Celestial Bath" is a disturbing film not easily shaken from the mind.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
"Xiu Xiu" is a character-driven story, and a strong one at that. We learn much about the characters, their motivations and their desires. And we see somewhat indirectly some of the unfortunate consequences of the Cultural Revolution. Yet this is not at all a political story but rather a gentle and touching love story of sorts. I strongly recommend it for those seeking films of a more personal nature rather than the typical Hollywood blockbuster.
My only complaint about the DVD, for those wishing to buy it, is that it is quite a bare-bones DVD. True, the picture quality and sound quality are superb, but there are no extras included on the DVD at all. Nothing, zip. Not even a trailer or filmography. At the very least, Image Entertainment should have persuaded Joan Chen to do a commentary for this film, as it was such a personal endeavour for her. But alas, all we are given is the movie itself. The film itself gets a strong 5 stars, but the lack of anything at all on the DVD brings it down to 4 stars.
Nonetheless, the film is easily one of the best films released in 1999, and I highly recommend it!
This story tells of how a young and innocent girl , Xiu Xiu, was posted onto the said regime. Although she did apply for the posting herself, one must be aware that in those times, under the iron-grip propaganda of Mao, the Chinese population had basically no significant choices and were even discouraged to 'think & conceptualise' as that would be deemed as an insult to the 'perfection' of Mao's communist agenda. Back then, the poor Chinese people had to praise and be in alignment with Mao's theories with almost every breath of their controlled lives.
Xiu Xiu's family had neither political connections nor money to deliver her from her fate. We see a youthful and energetic girl following the regime dutifully and patriotically for a year until she was sent off to live with a mentor from whom she was suppose to learn the ropes of horse herding. Upon later discovery that she might be able to return home as certain governing structure had been dissolved, Xiu Xiu then pinned all hopes to that possibility.
The soul of Xiu Xiu deteriorates in front of the audience as she compromised her own body to despicable 'officials' who offered her the passage home. Contemplating that without their 'assistance', she would not only be stuck in the wilderness but also unable to get the formal documentation required to be a legitimate citizen at home, she gave in even to the most obvious of liars.
The finale sequence demonatrates an amalgamation of true love and emotional torment that is rare to both our current time and developed societies.
The actual fate of millions might had been worse than this representative portrayal. The story is not only an extremely touching epic, but also one of the most important films to have emerged from the Chinese cinematographic
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