"Xiu Xiu The Sent-Down Girl"
A Film Review by
Linda Lopez McAlister
On "The Women's Show"
WMNF-FM 88.5 Tampa
August 28, 1999

I ventured out to the wilds of North Tampa, or wherever it is up there on way North Dale Mabry last night to the one theater in town that's showing "Xiu Xiu The Sent-down Girl, " held over for a second week at the Hollywood 20 theater. It was worth the drive. This is a film produced, written, and directed by Joan Chen, better known for her work as a film and television actor. Now she is making her own films and this is a very impressive debut . Like many Chinese films about women (recall "Jou Do," "Raise the Red Lantern," "The Story of ) this one tells an unrelentingly sad tale about but is distinguished by spectacular cinematography and characterizations that are almost perfectly realized by the leading actors, Lu Lu as Xiu Xiu and Lopsang as Lao Jin.

Even after seeing the film, I don't know what, exactly, "the sent-down girl" means. Perhaps it refers to the fact that Xiu Xiu, the teenage daughter of urban working parents, is one of the thousands of city-dwelling, educated young people who were sent out to the countryside to work with peasants in rural areas between 1967 and 1976 as a way of promoting the ideal of a classless society. Maybe it means that she was sent so far out into the wilderness, to live in a tent with a man who lives a nomadic existence raising and herding horses on the vast grasslands of western China, with no means of communication, only an occasional visitor, and a harsh climate. The reasoning behind this bizarre assignment is so that she'll learn how to handle horses and will then organize a girls' cavalry unit for the Educated Youth of this particular district. The reason it's o.k. to send her to live with this man, Jin Lao, is that in his youth while serving in the military in his native Tibet he was taken prisoner and was castrated.

At first the two have little to say to one another. Xiu Xiu is a pouty, willful, silly, and adorable teenager still on the brink of childhood when she arrives. Jin Lao doesn't say much but watches her closely and does what he can, in his quietly good natured and sensible way, to make her stay with him as comfortable as possible. Because she is so concerned with her personal hygiene in this remote place, he even creates a little bathing pond for her. At the end of her six month stay with Jin Lao she is supposed to go back to the regional party headquarters, but, as she waits in vain for days on end for the truck to come for her, it becomes clear that no one is going to come.

Then an engaging young peddler comes by and tells her that nearly all the others who came with her have already gone home and that he can help her get the papers she needs. Xiu Xiu immediately gets a crush on him and the next time he comes, they have sex. Instead of helping her get a permit to leave he tells his friends about this girl who will have sex with you if you convince her you're important and can help her get out of her predicament.

Meanwhile, Jin Lao, in his quiet way, has fallen in love with Xiu Xiu, though he never tells her this and she's too childish to even suspect. Obviously it is torture to Jin Lao to see his beloved young woman turning herself into a whore before his very eyes. Perhaps that is what it means to be "sent down." I can't tell you how the plot resolves itself, but I promise you will find it moving and thought provoking. Not to mention utterly beautiful filmmaking.

For the Women's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and Film.

Linda Lopez McAlister teaches women's studies and philosophy at the University of South Florida.

Copyright 1999 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved.