(director: Huang Ji, Ryuji Otsuka; screenwriter: Ryuji Otsuka; cinematographer: Ryuji Otsuka; editor: Ryuji Otsuka; music: Chor Guan Ng; cast: Yao Honggui (Lynn), Liu Long (Zhang); Runtime: 148; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Ryuji Otsuka; Kim Stim, Yellow-Green Pi; 2022-China-in Mandarin, English, with English subtitles)

“A sad but poignant drama on contemporary China.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sad but poignant drama on contemporary China.

It’s directed in a low-key manner by the Japanese cinematographer Ryuji Otsuka (“Ben Niao”) and his Chinese wife, Huang Ji (“The Foolish Bird”/”Egg and Stone”), who are Beijing-based. This is the first film they co-directed.

The film follows the life of the languid 20-year-old Lynn (Honggui Yao), a flight attendant in training, as she deals with a surprise pregnancy while residing in Changsha (the capital city in Hunan province).

Her extroverted live-in boyfriend Zhang (Liu Long), a career-orientated model and DJ, pays for her to learn English in school, but she drops-out of school when pregnant and leaves him when he bullies her to get an abortion.

Lynn shows little interest in anything and tells us little about herself, as she returns home to the suburbs of Changsa to stay with her hard-pressed estranged gynecologist mother, who once ran an abortion clinic her father built but now sells a sham Vitality cream after botching an abortion and going into debt because of her costly mistake. Yao’s film parents happen to also be her real parents, and the apartment they reside in for the film is actually their real place.

Lynn refuses an abortion, even as mom urges her to have one. Her plan is to give birth and give the baby up for adoption for a large sum of money.

The point of the film is to depict how naive, apathetic and introverted she is, and how she learns from this bad pregnancy experience some hard lessons in responsibility. We also see how repressive is the Chinese government, who approve of abortions only for medical reasons.

Yao plays a character who is not likeable. She captures the emotional intensity of her challenging role, while giving a brilliant understated performance for someone who is not a trained actress. Though the indie film is decent enough, it would have been better served if its story went deeper into her plight instead of remaining so superficial and if wasn’t over 2 hours long. But, to its credit, it gives us a better idea of what’s transpiring in mainland contemporary China among the marginalized women than either the internet news coverage or that of some political experts on China.
It played at the London Film Festival.

REVIEWED ON 10/27/2023  GRADE: B