31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Joan Chen, who has had a modest career as an actress in American films and TV, makes her directorial debut here in this brutal, poignant and beautiful Mandarin language film. Starring Lu Lu as Xiu Xiu, a teenaged girl from the city sent to the country during Mao's cultural revolution, and Lopsang as Lao Jin, a castrated Tibetan nomad who is to teach her horse husbandry, Tian yu is not so much an indictment of communist China as it is an indictment of human nature. Xiu Xiu is brutalized by small-minded bureaucratic males as has happened throughout human history, be they communist or feudal, her innocence and youth traded for an apple, her buoyant hope for life dashed by blind political and economic forces, and her self-respect stolen from her by the twisted logic of rape and lust.
What elevates this story above what we have seen many times before is the striking beauty of the Tibetan countryside and the fine characterizations of both Xiu Xiu and Lao Jin. Lao Jin is a "gelding," made fun of by others, a man of quiet disposition who falls in love with his beautiful young charge, but stands aside because of his impotence. Xiu Xiu has an imperial nature natural to favored girls everywhere, be they Japanese "princesses" or American "valley girls," a nature very well depicted by the script and very well acted out by Lu Lu, whose delicate beauty and spicy temperament clash well with Lao Jin's Taoist stoicism. At one point he remarks wisely that "every place is the same," meaning of course that it is what we bring to the place that really matters. But his wisdom is completely lost on the teenaged girl who wants and needs society and all that it has to offer. And so, the underlying "love affair" between the two can never be...except...as it is in the end.
Lopsang's performance is entirely convincing and Lu Lu is fascinating to watch. Joan Chen did a fine job with both of them while managing to keep politics and political agendas in the background. She concentrated on the human tragedy and made it universal. Both of her central characters had flaws that in some way led to the great sadness that they experienced, and yet they were not to blame. In this naturalistic expression we are reminded of the tragedies of novelists Thomas Hardy and Theodore Dreiser; and of course Chen was influenced by the work of Chinese director Zhang Yimou, in particular his sad, but captivating Raise the Red Lantern (1991) in which a beautiful girl is consumed and brutalized by societal forces of a different nature.
This film misses being a masterpiece because of a hurried resolution leading to an ending that needed a bit more shaping. Nonetheless this is an arresting and compelling drama, beautifully filmed and sensitively directed. But be forewarned. "Celestial Bath" is a disturbing film not easily shaken from the mind.
--Dennis Littrell, author of "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!"
19 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2000
Xiu Xiu: the Sent-Down Girl is Joan Chen's labour of love as well as her debut film as a director. It shows great promise and is probably one of the most beautiful films of the last decade. The cinematography reminds me of "Days of Heaven" or "Horse Whisperer" and was filmed in the beautiful and exotic Chinese countryside (albeit under the noses of the unaware Chinese government). The story is set during the Cultural Revolution around the time when city children were set into the countryside to better their education and make them more well-rounded citizens upon their return. Unfortunately, many of these children never did return for a variety of reasons. This story is about one such child, Xiu Xiu, who gets sent down to the countryside to learn the horse trade but becomes forgotten.
"Xiu Xiu" is a character-driven story, and a strong one at that. We learn much about the characters, their motivations and their desires. And we see somewhat indirectly some of the unfortunate consequences of the Cultural Revolution. Yet this is not at all a political story but rather a gentle and touching love story of sorts. I strongly recommend it for those seeking films of a more personal nature rather than the typical Hollywood blockbuster.
My only complaint about the DVD, for those wishing to buy it, is that it is quite a bare-bones DVD. True, the picture quality and sound quality are superb, but there are no extras included on the DVD at all. Nothing, zip. Not even a trailer or filmography. At the very least, Image Entertainment should have persuaded Joan Chen to do a commentary for this film, as it was such a personal endeavour for her. But alas, all we are given is the movie itself. The film itself gets a strong 5 stars, but the lack of anything at all on the DVD brings it down to 4 stars.
Nonetheless, the film is easily one of the best films released in 1999, and I highly recommend it!
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on October 27, 1999
I saw this movie in the theaters, and I find it absolutely unforgettable. The Tibetan high plains suffuse the movie with incredible beauty, and the Tibetan lead actor, Lopsang, is so evocative that he actually expresses more when he is not talking. It is a beautiful movie of a time when China went crazy and extreme behavior became the norm. Equally beautiful is the story "Celestial Bath" on by Geling Yan, on which this is based. That story is in a book called *White Snake and Other Stories* by Geling Yan, also on amazon.com.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 30, 2000
This film offers a realistic insight into one of the worst atrocities committed by Mao Zedong during the Cultural Revolution in China... how he (in the name of promoting the homogeneity of communism throughout the land with no humane regard to the aftermath caused by his selfish greed, so to sustain his own cult of personality; thus adding perversion to his then already defunct theories of communism) single-handedly wrecked and annihilated both physical and emotional lives of millions of Chinese youths by disrupting their education and dispatching them to the remotest regions to reconcile with and learn from the rural peasants the 'way to a true Communist life'.
This story tells of how a young and innocent girl , Xiu Xiu, was posted onto the said regime. Although she did apply for the posting herself, one must be aware that in those times, under the iron-grip propaganda of Mao, the Chinese population had basically no significant choices and were even discouraged to 'think & conceptualise' as that would be deemed as an insult to the 'perfection' of Mao's communist agenda. Back then, the poor Chinese people had to praise and be in alignment with Mao's theories with almost every breath of their controlled lives.
Xiu Xiu's family had neither political connections nor money to deliver her from her fate. We see a youthful and energetic girl following the regime dutifully and patriotically for a year until she was sent off to live with a mentor from whom she was suppose to learn the ropes of horse herding. Upon later discovery that she might be able to return home as certain governing structure had been dissolved, Xiu Xiu then pinned all hopes to that possibility.
The soul of Xiu Xiu deteriorates in front of the audience as she compromised her own body to despicable 'officials' who offered her the passage home. Contemplating that without their 'assistance', she would not only be stuck in the wilderness but also unable to get the formal documentation required to be a legitimate citizen at home, she gave in even to the most obvious of liars.
The finale sequence demonatrates an amalgamation of true love and emotional torment that is rare to both our current time and developed societies.
The actual fate of millions might had been worse than this representative portrayal. The story is not only an extremely touching epic, but also one of the most important films to have emerged from the Chinese cinematographic
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
This directing debut for Joan Chen surpassed all of my expectations. Yes, the movie leaves you with a horrible feeling, it can make you loose your sleep even. But how could one expect a sweet relieving ending for a great movie portraying the brutalities of the 70s in a red China? There was no justice and future for someone like Xiu Xiu in those days. And softening the ugly images of her life would do an injustice to the millions of broken and lost women who were unfortunate to be born in the Socialist countries, often deprived of the basic human rights. History's grimaces can be truly disturbing and shocking to the majority of Americans reared on a happy-end tradition of the Hollywood. And Chen's faithfulness to her material, as well as great acting by Lu Lu and Lopsang, make this low-budget movie so compellingly, yet painfully, realistic.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Filmed in China without the government's approval, this movie marks the directional debut of Joan Chen who starred in The Last Emperor and who has also been seen on American television. It is a sad and moving story of a young teenage girl during the cultural revolution.
Lu Lu is 15 in 1975 when she volunteers to be sent to the country in the sweep of patriotic fever and is sweeping the country. After a year she is sent on a special assignment: to learn horse herding in Tibet under the tutelage of an older man, Lopsang, who cannot function sexually because he had been castrated twenty years before. They share a dilapidated tent in a remote area of the grasslands of Tibet for what is supposed to be only a six month assignment. They learn to adjust to each other in spite of the fact that she is headstrong and a bit spoiled. He is good to her and a real affection develops between them. However, when the 6 months is up, she is abandoned by the government. The cultural revolution is breaking up and the project has been disbanded. A passing peddler then seduces her with promises of a travel visa, but he abandons her too and then there a series of men who visit her in her tent with empty promises.
Through all this, the audience watches the changes in the once-hopeful young girl and the silent concern of Lopsang. It soon becomes painfully clear that this movie will have a tragic conclusion. I understand this film has won some awards and I hope it wins more. It certainly deserves it. Great acting and characterization. Fine cinematography. And a deep and stark reality of the corruption of the Chinese government. Some parts were unclear though and it could have used better editing. And even though it was only 100 minutes long, it was much too slow for my taste. In spite of its strengths, it is not for everyone. It was too sad and painful. There's enough of that on the news right now.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 6, 1999
This movie made me think for days. These poor girls had to suffer similar or worse fates than Xiu Xiu. I felt the most sympathy with Lao Ching because he had to see Xiu Xiu deteriorate before his own eyes. I loved the way the director made the gradual loss of her innocence. In the beginning she was so innocent and did not want anyone to see her naked. In the end, she did not care.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2001
Joan Chen was going for a movie about China on the surface, but what I really saw was a movie about weak people. Xiu Xiu sells her self in vain for the sliver of hope that she might be sent home. Men coming into her and Loa Jins tent in the middle of the night to rape her, and she takes it! How she was objectified and blatantly used enraged and depressed me. Lao Jin (lopsang) understands XuiXui(lulu)yet does almost nothing to stop her, yet he loves her. Her innocence is destroyed and she might as well be dead, she is worth nothing to herself anymore. I am disturbed, and enlightened. I am provoked and stirred. Congrats Chen. The film covers a nature of all sides, It is the beautiful Tibetan scenery and the beautiful Xiu Xiu, it is the writing, the raw emotional.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on September 17, 2001
I have no idea why I've fallen for Chinese language (English subtitles) cinema, from "art house" to "wild action," but I'm glad it's happened. The movies I've seen have had a deeper impact on my own life than all the movies I've seen before, collectively. I tend to think of these movies as "stories" that someone felt had to be told, rather than as movies that often strike me as being 2 hour long commercials. This story had a life of its own and was just waiting for someone, like Joan Chen to write and direct it.
This story was that of a personal tragedy compounded by the fact that it took place in such a remote area, that the two main characters were virtually insignificant on the canvas of life. No one would notice or care about them except for those to whom they had meaning. Perhaps the whole movie could have been a flashback scene that explains what someone who came across Xiu Xiu and Lopsang in the following spring might have wondered upon discovering them.
The only "flaw" was Ms. Chen's seemingly deliberate desire to not go for the emotional jugular by showing Xiu Xiu deteriorating as she would have, under those conditions. The audience knows it's got to be happening. Maybe it's made more poignant by the brave face she carries. She seems to suddenly wake up with the realization that she's never going to make it back, in spite of her efforts. The thought process that went into the scene where she goes from trying to cripple herself -- to ending it all in the water took me into her head. Imagine realizing you're almost as good as "thrown away." She actually dressed for her own funeral.
Lopsang's behavior is better explained on a website that features an interview w/ Joan Chen. She explains the irony and symbolism of his character...someone who can shoot a gun as well as he can -- yet cannot defend Xiu Xiu when she most needs it.
Having seen "To Live," I knew, almost by conditioning, where the maternity ward scene was going. The invevitable, in Xiu Xiu's case, was compounded by the callousness of those nurses. Maybe the crippled guy was supposed to add some 'comic relief' when he actually ran away from Lopsang (I think), but everything else about this scene further demonstrated how worthless Xiu Xiu was to everyone but Lopsang. Aside from the educational experience, the point this movie made to me was that human life, no matter how remote or unseen, matters. She was just "another one," to so many...and Lopsang wasn't even on the map anymore. Yet, in the end, both mattered. I also find it ironic that this program ended in 1976 and that she was "sent down" in 1975. She may have made it past the finish line -- but she never got the chance to know.
Now, all I want to do is to find the SOUNDTRACK. I'm glad the credits were also in English, or else I wouldn't have discovered who Chyi is. I'm having trouble finding good links to info on Chyi, but from another post, I hear she is very popular in Taiwan. That movie and song will haunt anyone with a soul.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 15, 2001
Note: The ethereal singer, for the soundtrack/songs in this film is CHYI (pron:chee yee), a very popular Taiwanese singer around the Asian region. Her songs and music are mostly dreamlike, ethereal, chinese new age.
First, I must say that this film is not for everyone. Those who are used to conventional blockbusters may either like it a bit or even hate it. For those who are used to world cinema, foreign subject matters and human/personal nature or even subtitle reading will love it. ( All the reviews here will give you a clue )
Being a fan of world cinema and idolizes Zhang YiMou, Akira Kurosawa, Chen kaige , Kenji Mizoguchi and likes, I came across infos on this movie by accident and I knew it is a " must see" for me. What I saw was beyond my expectation and totally unprepare for the final sequences that left me shameless tears.
Wonderful cinematography, fantastic barren landscapes of the Southwest Chinese steppes, great scripts and wonderful acting make this a MUST OWN for fans of World/Asian cinema. My congratulation to Joan Chen on her fantastic debut as a director.
Charactor actors, from LuLu (Xiu Xiu) and Lopsang (Lao Jing)and other cast including the Peddler, Mother&father delivers powerful and heart wrenching performances.
The English subtitle is excellent, but for me, or any others who understand mandarin and the various dialects presented in the movie, the scripts, the nuance of the language and the idioms and message deliverance are absolutely gorgeous , thus making this movie even more profound to me, with its simplistic beauty, subtle serenity and yet at the same time disturbing (the consequences of communism) and absolutely heartbreaking (relationship of the two main character).
Some people mentioned the ending being melodramatic...but after seeing the movie, think again, if anyone were to be in the situation of Xiu Xiu, being ravaged, mentally and physically to the point of beyond help...and the helpless condition and mental anguish of Loa Jing, a man who cannot help nor provide, physically and physiologically, but sit and endure as he watch the systematic detioriation of an innocent girl.
Lets just said, what happen at the end...can happen in real life ' in Asia or any where. Wake up ;), Its a crazy world we're living in. Never know when a person will just go cuckoo.... .