Stolen Life 生死劫 (Sheng si jie) [2005] • China

This is one of those films that exposes a segment of Chinese life that will likely make you recoil in despair—ever more when you know the particulars of the film are based on a true story. There's subtle and deep social commentary embracing this extremely sad tale of family, love, and one woman's struggle to survive in modern China. I was very surprised by the script, surprised by the brutality of its story.

Yan'ni (Zhou Xun) is a young woman whose parents, intellectuals from the previous generation, have abandoned her for the most part, shuffling her off to live in near poverty with her uncaring granny and aunt. She secretly gets accepted into university, raising her class status momentarily and giving her hope for a better life, but when she falls in love with a truck driver and gets pregnant, her life unravels.

It might seem like a giant spoiler to reveal that the man Yan'ni falls in love with, Muyu, isn't in love with her. He has a business plan in which Yan'ni has an important role. Muyu seduces young women, impregnates them, and then sells their babies. The film isn't structured in such a way that it leads up to this as a revelation. We are made aware early on of the impending doom Yan'ni will experience and our experience as a viewer is centered on how Yan'ni will deal with it. The film is not an expose as much as a character study.

Zhou Xun is one of the most compelling actresses working today and she delivers right from the start. I don't think a lesser actress could have made this film work as well as it does. It's powerful, frightening stuff.

Director: Li Shaohong
Starring: Zhou Xun, Wu Jun, Cai Ming, Su Xiaoming, Zhao Chengshun

Austin Film Society
The Evening Class

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