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CANNES — Massive applause broke out at the end of the first press screening of Li Yang’s extraordinary film “Blind Mountain,” and it was as much for its final act as for the quality of the picture. The film screened in Un Certain Regard. Even though Chinese authorities forced the director to make many cuts before it could be shown in Cannes, the movie retains enormous political impact as well as being a moving drama.
It tells what has been a sadly familiar story in China where hundreds of thousands of women and children have been abducted and sold into slavery. Few of them escape or are rescued. The film’s economical style, vivid cinematography and tremendous acting should attract audiences far and wide.
Li Yang wastes no time getting his story, set in Northern China in the early 1990s, off to a frightening start. Bai Xeumei (Huang Lu) is an attractive and bright young university student keen to make some money to help defray her father’s expenses for her education. Having no luck getting a job, she’s delighted when a fellow student tells her about an opportunity to sell medical supplies to rural folk. The two young women travel with a well-dressed executive type far into the mountains. After they’re given refreshments however, Xeumei’s drink knocks her out. She wakes up to find her two traveling companions have gone and her ID is missing. A leering man named Degui (Yang Youan), with bad teeth and a ubiquitous cigarette, informs her she is now his bride. Scared and furious, Xuemei demands to be set free but the man’s gnarled mother (Zhang Yuling) and ancient father (Jia Yinggao) tell her that she has been bought and paid for and must remain.
When the young woman resists all attempts to make her submit, Degui rapes her while his parents hold her down. Repeated defiance results in increasingly severe beatings and no one in the village thinks there’s anything wrong with that.
Astonished to discover that several wives in the community have been kidnapped in the same way, Xeumei decides to acquiesce until she can find a way to escape. It’s a tough learning curve as she finds every avenue is closed to her from the remote location to the unwillingness of anybody to do anything to help without being paid for it. Each time she tries to flee, she is caught and beaten.
The local teacher, Huang Decheng (He Yunle), who has a lesser education than she does, is friendly and then falls in love with. She responds and they make love but then they are caught and he is banished. Desperate for money, she sells herself to the local shopkeeper but after paying for a ride to the nearest town and then buying a bus ticket to the city, she finds not even the police will prevent her husband and his family from taking her back.
As the months go by, and Xeumei becomes pregnant, she pins her hopes on the letters she writes to her father that the local mailman promises to send off. A local kid named Quingshan (Zhang Youping) whom she teaches when his father can no longer afford to send him to school also becomes her ally.
Helped greatly by the work of Taiwanese cinematographer Jong Lin (“Eat Drink Men Women”), Yang conveys the insular traditions of the villagers while abhorring their brutality and greed. He draws wonderful performances from a cast that includes local amateurs and professionals, including the utterly credible Huang Lu, who plays the abducted woman with intelligence and indomitable grace.
Screenwriter-director-producer: Li Yang
Executive producer: Li Shan, Alexandra Sun
Director of photography: Jong Lin
Art director: Shu Yang
Costume designer: Liu Yi
Bai Xuemei: Huang Lu
Huang Degui: Yang Youan
Ding Xiuying: Zhang Yuling
Huang Decheng: He Yunie
Huang Changyi: Jia Yinggao
Li Qingshan: Zhang Youping
Running time — 97 minutes
No MPAA rating
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