The winner of the 2006 Golden Bear -- the top prize at the prestigious Berlin Festival -- this small, sweet drama from Chinese director Wang Quang An is picturesque, romantic and unexpectedly droll tale of life in one the world's most remote regions.
Tuya (Yu Nan), her husband Bater (Bater) and their children, Zhaya (Mengke Zhaya) and his little sister, Baorao (Ting Ting), are sheepherders who live on the vast, dry grasslands of Inner Mongolia. Even though she's married, Tuya does all of the hare work around the farm: Three years earlier while digging a well, Batoer was badly injured and he is now unable to do much more than care for the children. Now Tuya must herd the sheep, cart huge bales of hay and, with the well unfinished, lug heavy tanks of water from a wellspring over 200 km away. In a harsh environment like Inner Mongolia, an incapacitated husband is worse that no husband at all -- he becomes just another mouth to feed -- and people like her neighbor, Sen ge (Sen ge), urge her to divorce Bater and get herself a real man. Sen ge, however, is no one to give advice on matrimonial matters: He's married to a lazy adulteress who's addicted to what passes for the "good life" on the grassy plains and who keeps running off with other men, leaving Sen ge in drunken despair. One day, he vows, he going to buy himself a truck and become a big boss man; then his wife will love him. In the meantime, Sen ge drives a rickety three-wheel vehicle which, in a show of thanks for resuscitating him after a drunken spill on his motorbike, he loads with Tuya's bundles of hay. The load, however, proves too great and his cart tips over, trapping Sen ge underneath. Once again Tuya comes to his rescue, but the strain is too great and she collapses. The doctor diagnoses Tuya with long-term lumbar fatigue and gives her a stern warning: If she does any more heavy lifting, she could be left paralyzed. Clearly she needs help, and now even her sister-in-law urges Tuya to divorce Bater and marry someone who can do the work around the farm for her. Bater, sadly, agrees. No sooner are the divorce proceedings finalized than potential suitors from near and far begin lining up at Tuya's yurt, only to disperse once they hear Tuya's one and only condition for marriage: In addition to her children, her new husband must also take in and care Batoer, whom she still loves.
Shoot on location against the striking landscape of Inner Mongolia, Wang and screenwriter Lu Wei (FAREWELL, MY CONCUBINE) set out to capture a way life that has begun to disappear, and they succeeds. Although Chinese development of the region is never directly addressed -- the strange fable KHADAK has more to say on that point -- we do see evidence of relocation and population shift in the figure of Baolier (Peng Hongxiang), one of Tuya's suitors who left their remote hometown to become an international oilman and has now returned, rich, heartbroken and homesick. At heart, the film remains a winsome, at times humorous, drama centered on a marvelous performance by the beautiful Yu Nan, who's due to make an international debut when her next film, SPEED RACER, opens in May, 2008. leave a comment --Ken Fox