This movie is about a little girl who just sits around, but at least she sits around outside a lot.
Available on Amazon. Approximately 99 minutes.
A husband and wife have taken a rather long journey from the countryside to see the man’s uncle and aunt. The uncle has found an 11-year-old girl for them to…um…adopt. The girl, Wang Yumin, has a bit of a sob story. She came down with an illness last year that rendered her unable to walk. Her mother is dead and what little money her father gets is wasted on alcohol and gambling instead of medical treatment. He has offered to sell Yumin for 1000 yuan, or approximately $130. It is agreed. Husband and wife buy Yumin and rename her Luo Xiao’e. They go into town and try to settle down as a new family.
Wife almost immediately notices that Xiao’e is sick. The doctor informs them that she has a cold, which is not as big a deal as the need to treat her legs as soon as possible. Husband says that they have no money to pay for the cure, so the doctor gives them ten doses of medicinal herbs for free. Once, the Luo family finds a place to rent in town, Wife starts to get to work boiling the herbs. Husband puts a stop to this, though. He has no intention of curing Xiao’e; only in keeping her alive long enough to make them money in their new venture. And what is their venture? Begging. And not a begging with a skill or a speech either. Husband finds a part of the sidewalk in town for her and Wife to sit. They follow behind him until they reach the spot and unfurl a big sign asking people to donate while they just passively sit there with a bowl. They do little else aside from take what is offered and maybe respond to people who talk to them. Meanwhile, Husband loiters around nearby, sometimes walking around and smoking a cigarette. And this works. People gather around, including several children. It is unclear how many of those people give money, but it seems to be enough to satisfy Husband, who counts it that evening as Wife cooks dinner. She also secretly boils some of the herbs for Xiao’e.
The next day, a rather well-to-do woman sees Wife and Xiao’e on the street. She gives Xiao’e a piece of cake as well as 100 yuan for clothes and food. She gets no thanks from either of them. She does, however, get to talking with Wife again the day after that. Husband notices and later asks Wife what they were talking about. Wife says that the woman offered to adopt Xiao’e and cure her illness. Wife told her that she would think about it, but Husband outright refuses, saying that there must be a catch. Nevermind helping Xiao’e or helping them get proper jobs; Husband fears that this woman’s meddling will get them arrested for illegally adopting Xiao’e for the purpose of begging. Their conversation gets interrupted when they get home due to two toughs waiting outside. The men tell Husband and Wife that they have to obey the rules of the territory and pay protection money.
The next day, Husband goes for a walk and sees a crowd that has gathered around another beggar, a 13-year-old boy who is missing an arm. Not long afterwards, Husband encounters that boy’s father…well, father in the same sense that Husband is the father of Xiao’e. As this man is reiterating the speech about the rules of the territory, Husband takes note of his accent and realizes that he comes from the same part of the country as his Uncle. When he points this out and mentions his Uncle, the man suddenly starts acting more friendly. He says that his name is Yang and that he was one of the Uncle’s disciples. He says that, while the Luo family still has to obey the rules of the territory and stick to certain areas of town, he will help them learn the ins and outs of…begging. And, thus, begins…something.
So…this movie is…difficult. Not difficult in terms of intensity or cruelty, but this one is blunt. It is blunt, sparse, spare, and extremely low budget. The video quality is not great, there is no soundtrack, the long takes are probably more of a filming necessity than a stylistic choice, the pacing is slow, the story is thin, the acting is subdued to the point of sounding wooden, and the tone comes across as one of mild concern even as the plot does pick up in the second half. I have seen quite a few movies like this one, not just out of China, but mostly out of China. This is rather an extreme version of that style of film and I have rarely been able to get through five minutes of these types of films, either due to disinterest or discomfort. Yet, there was something about this film that managed to keep me watching despite my initial wariness about continuing. Perhaps it was the fact that I had paid FIVE DOLLARS to stream it for a week. That could have been it at the beginning. After a while, though, the no-style style got kind of hypnotic. Unlike with similar movies that I could not stand, I was able to cast aside quibbles about cinematic artlessness in this one and focus on the events that the movie depicts and things that the characters talk about. Instead of distracting me, the style of the film served to rid me of distractions.
The movie appears to depict its characters as hopeless mopes with few prospects and dubious ambitions. They are on the margins of a society that can prop them up for a bit, but cannot be trusted to invite them in. These people are fine with having their names stripped from them, as their new identities cannot be much worse than their previous ones and they had little choice in the matter anyways. Husband may come from the Luo family, but who even knows if that is the real family name? Identities matter only in terms of what it can give people. And people do not matter either. Husband calls Wife slow-witted for developing maternal feelings towards Xiao’e; it is not because he is necessarily cold hearted, but that showing a cold heart is necessary. Warmth is for suckers, and parasites take advantage. It is unclear how long Xiao’e was meant to be Xiao’e, as it is stated that children become less of a moneymaker in the begging scene once they become teenagers. Emotional attachment is for suckers.
Meanwhile, young Xiao-e herself seems to view everything with the stoicism of someone who has long since come to terms with not having any dreams for herself. She can accept Mother’s love, but she is unsentimental. Passersby on the street who dein to notice her look at her with pity, maybe with a little bit of disdain. Viewers may find her story sad and maybe infuriating. But, there she remains, maintaining a sense of quiet dignity in a life that allows for little.
I don’t really have much else to say about the movie. There is little about it that may actually be appealing. All I can say is that I liked it despite myself. I guess that if you like stark movies with no frills, then this is one for you. Otherwise…maybe…
WTF ASIA 47: Rainbow Eyes (South Korea: 2007, approx. 99 minutes)
WTF ASIA 48: The Lunchbox (India: 2013, approx. 105 minutes)