Courtesy Photo
*** stars 99 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, July 9, 1999
Co-written & directed by Joan Chen

Starring Lu Lu, Qian Zheng, Gao Jie, Lopsang & Li Zhizhen

Interview with director Joan Chen


The sense of Xiu Xiu's loneliness is illustrated by sweeping, bare cinematic vistas. The sense of place is important. So wide-screen is advised, but otherwise this incredibly personal story will play well at home.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 10/19/99

Tragedy of 'Xiu Xiu' a heartbreaking condemnation of Chinese Cultural Youth Revolution

By Rob Blackwelder

"Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" may seem on the surface like a purely political document. It is a certainly a condemnation of Chinese government's Cultural Youth Revolution policy that took teenagers away from their homes in the 1960s and '70s and assigned them to practical servitude in remote regions of the country.

But this tragic Everygirl allegory of a child "sent down" to learn a practical trade for the good of the People is so personal and affecting, and told with so much heart, that even someone completely ignorant of those policies (color me guilty) can become enraptured by the plight of young Wen Xiu.

Played by Lu Lu, a beautiful and sincere 15-year-old discovered by actress-turned-director Joan Chen, Xiu Xiu (as she is called by her friends) is a giddy, girlish, city-dweller whose bright eyes and sunshine smile are dampened when she is stripped from her family by this government program that has long since outlived its usefulness, and delivered to a provincial countryside to learn cavalry.

She finds herself sharing a tattered army surplus tent on a remote prairie hillside with a reclusive, weather-beaten Tibetan herder named Lao Jin (film rookie Lopsang) and quickly becomes miserable, scared and lonely. Even though she is told she will be allowed to return after six months, the film follows her gradual loss of faith and innocence as months, then a couple years, go by.

Descending gradually into devistating martyrdom, the once happy-go-lucky and sinless Xiu Xiu (pronounced shoh-shoh) becomes disillusioned, eventually turning to prostitution, thinking, in her naivete, that giving herself to the right military passerby to her modest tent on the Tibetan prairie might beget a pass back to her family.

Meanwhile, gentle, pensive and devoted Lao Jin -- who at first regards Xiu Xiu as a selfish, silly child -- wants desperately to rescue the girl from the terrible path she's put herself on. But he is a bystander by nature and doesn't have the fortitude to do so. The best he can muster are an few acts of defiance (he burns the shoes of an army officer while the officer defiles the girl).

Somehow one of them must find a way for her to escape this detrimental life. But redeption is not Xiu Xiu's fate.

Adapted for the screen by Chen (best known for "Twin Peaks") and her close friend (and biographer) Yan Geling from a short story Geling wrote for a contest in Taiwan (she won), "Xiu Xiu" is clearly a labor of love.

Taking to direction beautifully, Chen nourishes every frame of the film with an eye for breathtaking, panoramic photography (idyllic hillsides of flowers; grey, storm-prone skies that drive home Xiu Xiu's isolation) and a passionate knack for culling understated and deeply affecting performances. She shot the picture on the sneak in Shanghai and Tibet, and subsequently she and the film have been banned from the country where she grew up during the era depicted in the film (she had friends who were "sent down" while she was trained as an actress).

Someday, when China sheds its autocratic, oppressive form of government, "Xiu Xiu" will likely be seen there as a mythical archetype of this period in the nation's history. But right now, for Western audiences, it serves as a moving and accomplished glimpse into a closed culture and one of the tolls that culture has taken on its people.


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