The Great Wall
Unlike any American blockbuster you've seen, a conservative movie with action set pieces that are actually inventive and thrilling enough to be worthwhile.
In a time of movies about sex and silly teenagers, here is a film that arrives with a jolt of hard reality, about a 15-year-old Chinese girl who was not lucky enough to be born into the consumer paradise of "American Pie." To those who find savage satire in "South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut" (I am among them), here is a story about people who would weep with joy to have the problems "South Park" attacks.
Joan Chen's "Xiu Xiu: The Sent Down Girl" is set in 1975, when the madness of the Cultural Revolution was still destroying the lives of millions of Chinese. A plague of fanaticism was upon the land. Wen Xiu (the title is her nickname) lives in the provincial city of Chengdu, goes to school, has a boyfriend, wears blouses sewn by her father, a tailor. Then she is selected to be "sent down" to a remote rural area, where as a city girl she can have her revolutionary values renewed by living with the proletariat. Countless others were also exiled from home, family and friends by such directives.
The girl (played by Lu Lu) is sent to the high steppes near Tibet, to live in the tent of a horse herder named Lao Jin (Lopsang). A wide river snakes through the territory, hardly seeming to flow. Lao Jin's tent, patched and leaky to the cold winds, is considered a safe haven because it is known in the district that he was castrated by "enemy soldiers" (their nationality unclear). Xiu Xiu is not a brave, independent heroine, a woman warrior; she is a kid, homesick and frightened, and not very sophisticated about her situation.
Life with Lao Jin is painted by Chen as essentially a lonely exile in a faraway place, where the man does most of the work and Xiu Xiu behaves much as a teenager might if she were sent to the farm for the summer. She is modest, undresses behind curtains, treats Lao Jin in an almost condescending fashion, does not see how much he cares for her, and about her. On the day when she has been away for six months, she puts on her nice sweater and a scarf, expecting officials to come and return her to her home.