Strong lead perfs, unfussy direction and a solid script make Chinese village drama “A Young Ibex” more than the sum of its largely familiar parts. A change of English title and a makeover of the poor subtitles could equip this first feature by writer-director Su Lei (long in commercials and TV drama series) for a modest festival career and airing on ethnic movie channels.
Set in Su’s own backyard — the Uyghur autonomous region of remote Xinjiang province — story is based on a true event that took place in Tianshan. Despite the efforts of his devoted wife, Baoxiu (Dong Ping), struggling oil maker Mao Yusheng (Zhou Bo) doesn’t get on with his brother-in-law, village honcho Ge Baozhu (Wang Shuangbao). Things seem to improve during a reconciliatory dinner, but, when Ge discovers he’s been served ibex (a Grade I protected animal), he throws the book at Mao, plunging the village into a legal tangle that also exposes a secret from Ge’s own past. Apart from a couple of (snippable) sequences, pic doesn’t trade on its borderline exotic setting, getting by on real character drama between the thesps, especially Zhou and Wang.