A beautiful but brutal film
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 07/03/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Joan Chen, who has had a modest career as an actress in American films and TV, makes her directorial debut here in this brutal, poignant and beautiful Mandarin language film. Starring Lu Lu as Xiu Xiu, a teenaged girl from the city sent to the country during Mao's cultural revolution, and Lopsang as Lao Jin, a castrated Tibetan nomad who is to teach her horse husbandry, Tian yu is not so much an indictment of communist China as it is an indictment of human nature. Xiu Xiu is brutalized by small-minded bureaucratic males as has happened throughout human history, be they communist or feudal, her innocence and youth traded for an apple, her buoyant hope for life dashed by blind political and economic forces, and her self-respect stolen from her by the twisted logic of rape and lust.What elevates this story above what we have seen many times before is the striking beauty of the Tibetan countryside and the fine characterizations of both Xiu Xiu and Lao Jin. Lao Jin is a "gelding," made fun of by others, a man of quiet disposition who falls in love with his beautiful young charge, but stands aside because of his impotence. Xiu Xiu has an imperial nature natural to favored girls everywhere, be they Japanese "princesses" or American "valley girls," a nature very well depicted by the script and very well acted out by Lu Lu, whose delicate beauty and spicy temperament clash well with Lao Jin's Taoist stoicism. At one point he remarks wisely that "every place is the same," meaning of course that it is what we bring to the place that really matters. But his wisdom is completely lost on the teenaged girl who wants and needs society and all that it has to offer. And so, the underlying "love affair" between the two can never be...except...as it is in the end.Lopsang's performance is entirely convincing and Lu Lu is fascinating to watch. Joan Chen did a fine job with both of them while managing to keep politics and political agendas in the background. She concentrated on the human tragedy and made it universal. Both of her central characters had flaws that in some way led to the great sadness that they experienced, and yet they were not to blame. In this naturalistic expression we are reminded of the tragedies of novelists Thomas Hardy and Theodore Dreiser; and of course Chen was influenced by the work of Chinese director Zhang Yimou, in particular his sad, but captivating Raise the Red Lantern (1991) in which a beautiful girl is consumed and brutalized by societal forces of a different nature.This film misses being a masterpiece because of a hurried resolution leading to an ending that needed a bit more shaping. Nonetheless this is an arresting and compelling drama, beautifully filmed and sensitively directed. But be forewarned. "Celestial Bath" is a disturbing film not easily shaken from the mind."
A beautiful, haunting story
Ed N | Kensington, Maryland USA | 07/12/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Xiu Xiu: the Sent-Down Girl is Joan Chen's labour of love as well as her debut film as a director. It shows great promise and is probably one of the most beautiful films of the last decade. The cinematography reminds me of "Days of Heaven" or "Horse Whisperer" and was filmed in the beautiful and exotic Chinese countryside (albeit under the noses of the unaware Chinese government). The story is set during the Cultural Revolution around the time when city children were set into the countryside to better their education and make them more well-rounded citizens upon their return. Unfortunately, many of these children never did return for a variety of reasons. This story is about one such child, Xiu Xiu, who gets sent down to the countryside to learn the horse trade but becomes forgotten."Xiu Xiu" is a character-driven story, and a strong one at that. We learn much about the characters, their motivations and their desires. And we see somewhat indirectly some of the unfortunate consequences of the Cultural Revolution. Yet this is not at all a political story but rather a gentle and touching love story of sorts. I strongly recommend it for those seeking films of a more personal nature rather than the typical Hollywood blockbuster.My only complaint about the DVD, for those wishing to buy it, is that it is quite a bare-bones DVD. True, the picture quality and sound quality are superb, but there are no extras included on the DVD at all. Nothing, zip. Not even a trailer or filmography. At the very least, Image Entertainment should have persuaded Joan Chen to do a commentary for this film, as it was such a personal endeavour for her. But alas, all we are given is the movie itself. The film itself gets a strong 5 stars, but the lack of anything at all on the DVD brings it down to 4 stars.Nonetheless, the film is easily one of the best films released in 1999, and I highly recommend it!"
A good film, but yet too sad and painful
Linda Linguvic | New York City | 01/08/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Filmed in China without the government's approval, this movie marks the directional debut of Joan Chen who starred in The Last Emperor and who has also been seen on American television. It is a sad and moving story of a young teenage girl during the cultural revolution.Lu Lu is 15 in 1975 when she volunteers to be sent to the country in the sweep of patriotic fever and is sweeping the country. After a year she is sent on a special assignment: to learn horse herding in Tibet under the tutelage of an older man, Lopsang, who cannot function sexually because he had been castrated twenty years before. They share a dilapidated tent in a remote area of the grasslands of Tibet for what is supposed to be only a six month assignment. They learn to adjust to each other in spite of the fact that she is headstrong and a bit spoiled. He is good to her and a real affection develops between them. However, when the 6 months is up, she is abandoned by the government. The cultural revolution is breaking up and the project has been disbanded. A passing peddler then seduces her with promises of a travel visa, but he abandons her too and then there a series of men who visit her in her tent with empty promises. Through all this, the audience watches the changes in the once-hopeful young girl and the silent concern of Lopsang. It soon becomes painfully clear that this movie will have a tragic conclusion. I understand this film has won some awards and I hope it wins more. It certainly deserves it. Great acting and characterization. Fine cinematography. And a deep and stark reality of the corruption of the Chinese government. Some parts were unclear though and it could have used better editing. And even though it was only 100 minutes long, it was much too slow for my taste. In spite of its strengths, it is not for everyone. It was too sad and painful. There's enough of that on the news right now."
A brilliant work
A. Bondar | New Hampshire, United States | 01/14/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This directing debut for Joan Chen surpassed all of my expectations. Yes, the movie leaves you with a horrible feeling, it can make you loose your sleep even. But how could one expect a sweet relieving ending for a great movie portraying the brutalities of the 70s in a red China? There was no justice and future for someone like Xiu Xiu in those days. And softening the ugly images of her life would do an injustice to the millions of broken and lost women who were unfortunate to be born in the Socialist countries, often deprived of the basic human rights. History's grimaces can be truly disturbing and shocking to the majority of Americans reared on a happy-end tradition of the Hollywood. And Chen's faithfulness to her material, as well as great acting by Lu Lu and Lopsang, make this low-budget movie so compellingly, yet painfully, realistic."