In Li Yangs second film, Blind Mountain (after his more well known Blind Shaft), the story focuses on the indifference of just about everybody involved in the plight of college girl Bai Xue Mai who is illegally sold as a wife and baby machine to a villager and his family living in the remote mountains of Sha’anxi Province. Li Yang is like Night Train's (Ye Che) Diao Yinan -review coming shortly- and is one of the new 6th Generation of Chinese film directors. Their films are less polished and extravagant than the directors before them like Zhang Yimou. Working with smaller budgets and often funded from outside China their films push the strict censor boards and sometimes do not even play on the mainland. Blind Mountain was released the same year as Night Train (Ye Che) and played along side at certain foreign film festivals such as the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. While visually the country sides of Blind Mountain are more beautiful to behold than the gray, industrial skylines of Ye Che the story itself is as, or more, bleak and painful to experience than Ye Che. In rural villages in China preference is given to male children for all the reasons one would expect in a farming based culture. Female babies are commonly murdered after birth (with legal impunity for the most part). People here usually do not have recourse to sonograms and if they did the daughters would no doubt be aborted before birth. As it is they are discarded, as the film depicts, like garbage later and they couple gets back to work on trying to bare a boy immediately. A disproportionate number of males therefore exist in rural communities where education is none existent and thinking is backwards. The idea of buying a wife, like people have done for centuries, seems the most natural thing to the families in these isolated communities. Now this is not always an issue and some rural women are sold by their parents longing to get rid of the burden of a daughter to families to want to get their sons to breeding a new generation of boys. Some rural women see this as what a woman has done to her in life. There are no other options.
Now what also happens sometimes in China (though it is more commn that wive's are bought that have been duped into finding a rich husband from places like Laos, Burma and Cambodia) and causes a little more of a stir is the abduction of city bred and college educated girls. This seems to be happening less and less but I gather is still not an impossibility. That’s is the basis for the film’s story and had Bai Xue Mei (played perfectly by Beijing actress Huang Lu, one of the few professional actors in the film, the rest of the cast being played by actual villagers) been a farm girl from the start there would have been no story here since the practice is still common in the country side where women are less than second class citizens. College student Xue Mai is duped by friend’s into thinking she can make some quick money by picking herbs in the mountains. She can help pay some of her family’s debt and assist with her brother’s tuition. She soon wakes from being drugged to find she has been sold to a village family as wife of the son. It all seems like a joke or dream but too soon she realizes how serious her situation is as she is beaten and raped and forced into daily labor. The village is located high in the mountains with only one way in or out. She is more educated than even the local school teacher considers the villagers nothing more than animals and she will do anything to escape. But the village men, who all have wives who have been abducted and sold to them, are used to wives trying to run away and the community, men and women, work together to keep the women in the village. The other wives have resigned themselves to their fates and seek to end the constant beating they once received but Xue Mei is determined to escape. But her every attempt is painfully thwarted and everything that seems like an opportunity becomes yet another exercise in desperation and futility. As her attempts at freedom progresses one witnesses the lack of concern on the part of everyone in the community and even in the large town she, at one point, manages to reach. The mailman. The police. The village leaders. Van drivers. Bus drivers. All seem unconcerned with the plight of the screaming kicking woman. Once it is stated ‘she is my wife and she is crazy’ all interest is dropped and the husband is even advised by tax collectors visiting the village to beat her more to keep her quiet. A police tell the men who have yet again caught her to move her along and to stop blocking traffic in the street.
Xue Mei’s situation is worse than the depressed court bailiff Wu Hong Yan in Ye Che. Hong Yan resigns herself to a life that is bleak and pointless but she somehow finds some reason and hope to face each day. Xue Mei’s lives only to escape and soon realizes how futile the situation is when even the police for the neighboring city cannot protect her against the barbaric villagers who have no respect or concern for modern laws. Even when she finally gives birth to a baby, to a boy thankfully, she learns to love the baby but soon she sees that the family stands between her and the child the way they stand between her and her freedom. I do not want to split the whole film or the ending but I will say that the film had to have an alternate and more upbeat ending in order to receive some limited showings on the mainland. Li Yang uses only a couple professional actors, like Huang Lu, and relies on locals to play the parts of the villagers and the result is amazing. Huang Lu delivers a performance that one would not really see from Zhang Ziyi or Gong Li in a Zhang Yimou film. Zhang Ziyi played as lightly similar character in the early, and wonderful, Zhang Yimou film Not One Less. But the direction, story and acting in Blind Mountain is tough and brutal in a way that Zhang Yimou never came close to in his finely crafted and safer films. I will tell you that Ye Che is a tough film to watch to the end Blind Mountain makes it look like The Wizard of Oz. Blind Mountain is an indictment by another gifted 6th Generation Director not only about the uneducated and barbaric ways of the rural peasantry but of the ineffectiveness of the government to address social problems and control its masses. A great movie but not for anyone who loves a Hollywood ending.
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