Between 1967 and 1976 the Chinese government engaged in one of the most sweeping experiments in social engineering ever attempted and with disastrous results. The so-called 'Cultural Revolution' involved relocating individuals to training camps and then placing them in agrarian jobs far from their homes. The idea was to break up the pre-communist power structure by shaking familial and political relationships to the core, uprooting and scattering the old guard across the countryside. The Cultural Revolution proved disastrous to both the country and the individuals who were its victims.
Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl is the poignant story of one teenager's journey through this system. The film opens with an examination of her fairly typical young life. She interacts with her doting parents, dates a respectable boy and dreams of a bright future. She sees her involvement with the Cultural Revolution as an opportunity to pursue her ambition to become a horse trainer but her illusions are quickly shattered. She finds herself stranded deep in the countryside with an impoverished, enigmatic nomad as protector and no way to get home. As the story continues things turn from bad to worse and Xiu Xiu is forced to leverage the only thing of value she owns (her body) to try and secure passage back to her family.
The film itself is beautifully photographed. The open, empty vistas seem to echo the psychological isolation that Xiu Xiu slips into but no matter how beautiful, a cage is still a cage. The story itself is slow and contemplative, building relentlessly to a shocking climax that I never could have anticipated. Lu Lu as Xiu Xiu and Lopsang as Lao Jin deliver exceptionally rich performances. Their mastery of their craft is evident in every gesture, glance and spoken word and they seem to have a powerful chemistry when working off of one another.
Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl is an Image Entertainment release featuring a passable transfer. The images exhibit very good color saturation and balanced contrast. Shadow detail is a little lacking but not to the point of distraction. The film elements themselves are substantially free from dirt and scratches but the US release used has subtitles printed on the frames. Though it's annoying that they can't be turned off I was pleased with their readability and found them more or less unobtrusive. Digital artifacts and edge enhancement effects were nowhere to be seen.
The Dolby Surround track (AC-3) is extremely low-key and that's to be expected with a film of this kind. There are only the slightest hints of surround activity and most of the music and dialogue take place right in the center of the front soundstage. The dynamic range is quite broad and I couldn't detect any mastering errors, dropouts or hiss.
This is a movie only disc with nothing but chapter stops on the main menu.
I enjoyed Xiu Xiu The Sent Down Girl very much and found it challenging and thought provoking. It presents a fascinating historical period with a good deal of depth and subtlety. The film's ending was a bit of a shock and I couldn't help but feel a little cheated by the filmmakers. That fact alone shouldn't discourage you from experiencing it for yourself though.