The Yunnanese village in “Huan Huan,” Song Chuan’s debut feature, mixes communist and capitalist creepiness: Strident public announcements continually harangue the villagers, and except for illegal gambling and imported quasi-pornographic musicvideos, amusements are few and far between. Despite d.p. Wang Xiang’s knack for texture and composition, the scenes, lensed mainly in long shot, feel like a succession of stilted tableaux, lacking any sense of flow. Matching the unremittingly bleak townscapes, the inhabitants (played by non-pros) register as one-dimensionally self-centered and venal. This negative vision of rural China seems too hamhanded to pique foreign interest.
Title character Huan Huan (Tian Yuefang), a sullen, cigarette-puffing teen desperate to leave her one-horse town, sleeps with a shady married doctor (Zhang Baoshan) who promises escape, but weds a local gambler (Liu Xiang) once the doc fails to deliver. When she becomes pregnant, unclear by whom, it unleashes a firestorm of expectations, ultimatums and violence. Song obsesses on China’s one-child policy, which wreaks havoc on his characters’ lives. But with action so choppily presented and characters so devoid of redeeming social value from the outset, the apportionment of political blame feels over-simplistic.