She, a Chinese Review
China, 2008. Li Mei (Huang Lu) is a young woman who lives in a small village. Her mother wants her to marry a civil servant, but she divides her affections between a local boy who has made a name for himself in Shenzen and a trucker. The latter rapes her when she turns him down. In a Chongqing shirt factory Mei is sacked for poor work and drifts into semi-legal occupation and into the arms of local hoodlum Spikey (Wei Yi Bo). After Spikey is killed, Mei decides to try her luck in London...
Xiaolu Guo is a novelist (writer of UFO in Her Eyes and A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers amongst others) as well as a film writer-director. There's certainly no doubting the veracity of Mei's story – there must be thousands like her, semi-legal immigrants trying to find a place in the West – and I'm not qualified to doubt it. Unfortunately the film undoes its own good intentions.
With a different director and a different actor, you could see the potential. Unfortunately the actuality falls short: Mei remains a blank, and as often as not an unsympathetic one. Closeups can be very eloquent as to a character's inner life, but all we get here is surface. For a film with presumed feminist leanings it's unfortunate that Mei is defined pretty much solely by her relationships with men – five of them in the course of the film. For the truck driver, she's there to be raped when she doesn't put out, and for Spikey she's there to be a gangster's moll. When in England, an elderly widower (Geoffrey Hutchings) is little more than a meal ticket providing access to a bank account, as long as she fills in for his still-mourned wife. And finally, for Indian takeaway manager Rachid (Chris Ryman) her Chinese exoticism is fuel for sexual fantasy. Visually the film, shot in HD, is somewhat flat and as unrevealing as its protagonist, and some decent performances, from Hutchings in particular, go for little.
She, a Chinese is released on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 2 only, as part of the distributor's Optimum Asia line. The disc begins with trailers for Vengeance, Tokyo and The Last Station.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 1.85:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. The HD-originated image is somewhat soft and generally dully-coloured. I suspect filming in real locations with much use of natural light had something to do with that. The picture sometimes threatens to break up on movement, and blacks aren't as strong as they should be. Shadow detail isn't great either. I'm sure this reflects the original film rather than the DVD authoring though.
She, a Chinese does have a strong, and frequently immersive Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack (with a Dolby Surround alternative). The music on the soundtrack comes over strongly. Subtitles for Mandarin dialogue (which is more than half of the film) are electronic but fixed. As usual with Optimum, there are no hard-of-hearing subtitles for the English dialogue.
Apart from the Optimum trailers mentioned above, there are no extras.