A beautifully understated tale of love and ambition, THE STORY OF XINGHUA addresses universal human themes with a feminist twist.
Wanglai (Tian Shaojun) is a brutal, greedy, egotistical peasant, the boss of a work crew that steals and sells stones from the Great Wall. Wanglai's younger brother, Fulin (Zhang Guoli), is his antithesis, a gentle, handsome tree farmer. Xinghua (Jiang Wenli), Wanglai's beautiful young wife, is
submissive but obviously unhappy; she doesn't love her husband and finds him physically repulsive. Wanglai wants an heir to his growing fortune, but, unsurprisingly, his wife remains barren.
Wanglai gets Fulin to help Xinghua plow Wanglai's field; Xinghua and Fulin become lovers and she gets pregnant. Unaware of this, Wanglai becomes obsessed with rumors of a treasure buried beneath an ancient watchtower and shrine. He convinces his gang to dig for it, despite the dangers of
structural collapse, government intervention, and supernatural displeasure. At the same time, his mistress tells him about Xinghua and Fulin. He beats Fulin while his gang destroys Fulin's beloved trees; later, Fulin tearfully admits to Xinghua that he too wanted an heir. When Xinghua tells
Wanglai that she is carrying Fulin's child, he is angry at first, then overjoyed by the prospect of an heir, however begotten. Trying to placate her, he goes to dig up the treasure and is killed when the tower collapses on him. Xinghua leaves the village, and Fulin, without saying goodbye. Her
future is uncertain, but she is no longer a pawn to male ambitions.
THE STORY OF XINGHUA is a wonderful piece of visual storytelling. Dialogue is sparse and simple, so subtitles inform without distracting the viewer. Wanglai, Xinghua, and Fulin are believable stereotypes, so their acting transcends linguistic and cultural barriers, recalling the best silent films.
The film relies on mise-en-scene and intimate tracking shots, usually alternating between interior and exterior, day and night, ending each scene with a simple fade to black. The film's rhythm mirrors that of village life, leaving tensions to build as the result of character interactions, and
eschewing visual pyrotechnics in favour of symbolism. When Xinghau and Fulin first make love, we hear her cries, but see a field drenched with rain. In THE STORY OF XINGHUA, cliches are transformed into archetypes.
The story's simplicity is deceptive. We expect either tragedy or a happy ending, but, like the heroine, we are left hanging. XINGHUA's minor flaws, ambivalence about religion and government, are due to fear of censorship. On almost every level, THE STORY OF XINGHUA quietly affirms film's unique
capacity to convey the universality of human experience. (Sexual situations, violence.)
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- Released: 1993
- Rating: NR
- Review: A beautifully understated tale of love and ambition, THE STORY OF XINGHUA addresses universal human themes with a feminist twist. Wanglai (Tian Shaojun) is a brutal, greedy, egotistical peasant, the boss of a work crew that steals and sells stones from th… (more)