Posts Tagged ‘China’

“ONE CHILD NATION” My rating: B+ (Now on Netflix)

90 minutes | MPAA rating: R

Americans — thoughtful ones, anyway — know all about collective guilt.

After all, under our belts we’ve got 200 years of slavery, the decimation of the continent’s aboriginal population, internment camps for loyal Japanese Americans…and President Donald J. Trump.

That’s just for starters.

But we’re given a run for our money by China, which for nearly 40 years enforced its one-child-per-family rule with millions of involuntary sterilizations and abortions.

The  moral weight of that experience is at the heart of “One Child Nation,” a devastating documentary that starts out as an examination of personal history and quickly becomes an indictment of an entire culture.

The film follows Nanfu Wang (who co-directs with Jialing Zhang) as she returns to her birthplace in China (she’s now a U.S. resident).  Visiting her native village in Jiangxi Province she interviews older citizens — including her schoolteacher mother and the burg’s former mayor — about the one-child policy that was in effect from 1979 to 2015.

At the time it was the largest example of social engineering in the world; the filmmakers display TV ads, posters, parades and songs designed to make the one-child effort as important as buying bonds during wartime.

Mostly Wang’s subjects toe the party line, declaring the policy a great success which prevented mass starvation and allowed China to slowly build itself into the economic powerhouse we see today. They’re proud to have done their duty and by doing so to have guaranteed the survival of their country.

But bit by bit horror stories come slithering out.  The former mayor talks about standing to one side, shamefully unable to act or to interfere when authorities arrested women found to be illegally pregnant.

A midwife sorrowfully estimates she was responsible for as many as 20,000 forced abortions — often involving weeping, pleading women who had to be tied down for the operation.  Many of those aborted fetuses were late-termers capable of surviving outside the womb. They were strangled. This same woman now devotes her life to good deeds, hoping to expunge the bad karma she has built up over decades.

At one point the filmmakers stumble across a dumpster filled with snapshots of aborted babies.


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** and Gong Li

Daoming Chen and Gong Li

” COMING HOME” My rating: B+

109 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

In the wrong hands “Coming Home” could have been an insufferable soap opera, like something out of the Nicholas Sparks School of Bathos, China Division.

But the man behind the camera is director Yimou Zhang; in front is his perennial leading lady, the amazing Gong Li; and the subject matter places the yarn’s personal tragedy against a backdrop of political and societal upheaval.

The results are heartbreaking.

The story begins in the early 1970s when Mao’s Cultural Revolution is in full swing.  Feng Wanyu (Li) is a schoolteacher sharing an apartment with her 14-year-old daughter, Dan Dan (Huiwen Zhang).

Dan Dan is an ambitious dancer with a company specializing in proletarian ballets. You know, the kind where the young ladies of the chorus learn to pirouette while waving flags, thrusting bayonets and tossing hand grenades.

Feng’s husband Lu (Daoming Chen) is a former professor who has been imprisoned for more than a decade. His crimes were intellectual and Feng insists on defending her man even though Dan Dan, who has grown up fatherless, has swallowed the party Kool Aid and fears that her chances at big roles are reduced because of her father’s sins.

When word arrives that Lu has escaped, an eager Feng looks forward to being reunited with her long lost love. Dan Dan, though, has a Hitler Youth mentality and isn’t above betraying Daddy to curry favor with the bigwigs at her ballet studio.

The film’s first half hour follows the fugitive Lu as he lives on the streets and tries to contact his wife without alerting the cops who are hovering outside the apartment building. Eventually he is caught and returned to prison without even having held his wife in his arms.

Several years later the Cultural Revolution has run out of steam and hundreds of thousands of “counterrevolutionaries” like Lu are declared rehabilitated and returned to their homes. But the grand welcome the former prisoner has long dreamed of isn’t happening.  Feng now suffers from dementia. She doesn’t recognize Lu…in fact she mistakes him for a party official who once persecuted her.

Lu moves into an abandoned storefront across the street. From there he can watch Feng coming and going and hopefully work his way back into her life.

Gelding Yan’s screenplay is a tragedy of near misses.


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