Opening 4 Feb 2010
This could also be called A Chinese Road Movie or Phases in a Young Girl’s Life. The film is divided into chapters, each with a subtitle such as “Mei has Never Been More Than Five Miles from Home” or “Brother Quay has a Brand New Scooter” or “Can you Love a Man with Glasses?” It opens with young Mei working at an open-air pool hall/restaurant frequented by young men. One of them rapes her in a field when she innocently accompanies him on a date. She follows another man into the city, works first in a hair salon, then as a prostitute. She moves in with a gangster named Spiker. When he is murdered, she takes his money hidden under the mattress and goes to London. There Mei first marries an older British man in exchange for a residency permit and then moves in with an immigrant who leaves her to return to India. The film closes with her, pregnant, walking down the street to an unknown future.
Mei seems to sleepwalk from one catastrophe to the next with no thought of the consequences. She never takes her life into her own hands to shape her future, except for the one time when she realizes her dream and moves to London, still without knowing what could be in store for her. Obviously, there must be something special here, since She, a Chinese, by director Xiaolu Guo won the top prize, Golden Leopard, at the Swiss Film Festival in Locarno. My colleague said, “Look at Mei as symbolic of the whole country of China: the rape of China by colonial powers, its interaction with the Western world, carrier of a new life, and so forth.” Perhaps this is a good approach, because China is not my problem, whereas Mei frustrated me to the point where I wanted to jump into the screen and shake her. Wake up girl and show a spark of responsibility! (Becky Tan)