Xiu Xiu: The Send Down Girl

Nov 17, 1999 at 12:00 am

One of the most devastating Utopian convulsions, in a century which has had several, was the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the ‘60s and ‘70s. Part of this doomed attempt to create a largely classless society involved relocating millions of young people from urban centers to remote and rural provinces where, presumably, the taint of idle cosmopolitanism would be supplanted by the virtues of rigorous peasant life.

A young person displaced in this manner, such as the title character in actress Joan Chen’s directorial debut, was said to have been "sent down." Xiu Xiu (Lu Lu), when we first meet her, is a universally recognizable type, a young teen perhaps a bit too adored and sheltered, and certainly unprepared for the great upheaval that’s in store for her. Removed from her family, she is sent to a beautiful but rugged wilderness near Tibet, where she lives in a tent with a friendly if slightly befuddled horse herder named Lao Jin (Lopsang).

At first, Xiu Xiu’s plight doesn’t seem too bad. The scenery is great; Lao Jin is kindly and respects her space; and supposedly she can return home after a year. Besides, she’s such a spoiled brat that one begins to think that maybe there’s a kernel of a good idea in this whole mingling-with-the-peasants concept. But after the year is up, Xiu Xiu finds herself the victim of some obscure bureaucratic glitch, stranded and unable to go home. At this point the film slides into tragedy as the young girl takes increasingly desperate measures to escape her limbo, with disastrous results for both her and her well-meaning host.

This is strong material and the main flaw of the movie is that Ms. Chen has attempted to prettify it somewhat and to take what is explicitly grim and make it vaguely inspirational. The film wants Xiu Xiu to be seen as some sort of unsung heroine, but she isn’t – she’s an innocent, swallowed whole by history for no good reason.

Richard C. Walls writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].