[Moved from the Chinese Journal / OP 04/03/07]
STOLEN LIFE (China / 2005)
Based on a controversial true story, Stolen Life (Sheng si jie) credibly charts the moral and physical struggles of its young female protagonist as she attempts to come in terms with life in contemporary China. Initially seen as a child who is left by her working-class parents in care of her resentfully committed aunt and granny, Yan'ni (Zhao Xun, of Suzhou River  fame) grows up as a sullen, detached individual waiting for an opportunity to find herself. It soon arrives in the form of university acceptance in Beijing. But the downfall of its naivet begins on the very first day of school, as she runs into a handsome and charming young man who first deceives her into love before impregnating her for profitable reasons.
Stolen Life is a "sixth generation film" directed by fifth generation filmmaker Li Shaohong, who graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in the early-80s with the likes of Tian Zhuangzhuang and Zhang Yimou. Shot on DV (most likely in HD), it is quite a departure from her previous effort, the fantastical Baober in Love (2004), which also featured the alluring Zhao. Here, during the second half of the film, Li attempts to institute documentary-style realism with her intricate shots of the citys bustling "underground," where Yan'ni ultimately ends up and hibernates. While her protagonists first-person voice-over, which presages the pitfalls she endures, takes away from the dramatic tension and at times hints towards preciousness, it also guides by eschewing any sensational or melodramatic elements in this otherwise austere production. After Yan'ni becomes acclimated with the truth, she abruptly decides to take matters into her own hands, but, as film critic Amy Taubin rightfully stated, "what's marvelous about the film is the way she gradually overcomes her pain and desire for revenge and finds agency through her misfortune. Together Li and her expressive lead actress convince us that this change, rather than being grafted on to fulfill a political agenda, comes from within the young woman herself."
*STOLEN LIFE premiered at NYC's Tribeca Film Festival in 2005. It won the Best Narrative Feature award.
*Now available on U.S. DVD (First Run).