Stolen Life

Veteran Chinese Fifth Generation helmer Li Shaohong returns to her meller roots with "Stolen Life." A riveting performance by Zhou Xun as a vulnerable young college student fuels this dark coming-to-consciousness tale of exploitation and abandonment. Li's polished feminist eye-opener may lure urban arthouse auds.

With: Zhou Xun, Wu Jun, Cai Ming, Su Xiaoming, Wang Pelyi.

After a brief fling with highly stylized pyrotechnics in “Baober in Love,” veteran Chinese Fifth Generation helmer Li Shaohong (“Blush”) returns to her meller roots with “Stolen Life.” A riveting performance by Zhou Xun (star of “Baober” and ingenue femme fatale of “Suzhou River”) as a vulnerable young college student fuels this dark coming-to-consciousness tale of exploitation and abandonment. Li’s polished feminist eye-opener may lure urban arthouse auds, particularly due to its being front lined by the beauteous Zhou.

Yan’ni’s (Zhou) formative years were devoid of support and affection, according to narration by the heroine herself. Left to the untender mercies of her grandmother and aunt at birth, Yan’ni retreated into a stubborn silence, shunning her mother’s half-hearted overtures on her rare visits and finally escaping her family’s constant putdowns by secretly getting accepted into the university.

On her first day on campus, Yan’ni meets Muyu (Wu Jun, star of the Li-produced “Springtime in a Small Town”), a self-deprecating young truck driver. Soon she moves in with him. But Muyu is full of unwelcome surprises, like a chance-discovered infant and cleaver-wielding wife.

Yan’ni’s hindsight-wise voiceover admits she should have seen the holes in Muyu’s story, but such is the power of Wu’s thesping that the viewer is still inclined to believe in him. Yan’ni gets pregnant and Muyu guilt-trips her into having the baby instead of “selfishly” continuing her precious education; the couple spirals downward exponentially until Yan’ni is forced to give up her baby, repeating her mother’s past mistakes and taking her place in the long line of Muyu’s female victims.

Paradoxically, the early voiceover hints of Muyu’s duplicity serve to distance script’s potential sentimentality without lessening its emotional impact, particularly as Muyu’s character gets progressively more sinister, motivated by a potent mix of cynicism, class rage and misogynistic contempt. Though Li never militantly soapboxes the point, it is obvious that Yan’ni’s gender has contributed greatly to her perceived lack of worth, in contrast to Muyu’s sense of male entitlement.

Li’s unsentimental, solipsistic view of her characters objectifies their emotional turmoil. Thus Yan’ni, made to give up her studies, takes refuge underneath the mosquito netting around her and Muyu’s bed, dazedly munching on veggies or jotting obsessive notes on the walls without ever emerging from the netting’s folds.

When compelled by economic necessity to leave her womb-like hibernation, she gets caught up in the subterranean world just outside her basement apartment door, a maze that houses semi-clandestine shops and workspaces.

Yan’ni emerges from her nightmare purified and strengthened, her childhood stubbornness and adolescent radiance forged into mature self-possession. Working as a salesgirl in a modern mall with bright corridors that contrast with the underground bazaar, Yan’ni is firmly ensconced between university elitism and lower-class dispossession.

Tech credits are excellent, Gao Hu’s HD lensing maintaining variations of color and texture even in the interwinding passageways of the underclass world.

Stolen Life


Production: A China Television Media Ltd./Beijing Rosat Film and TV production. Produced by Gao Xiaping, Li Shaohong. Directed by Li Shaohong. Screenplay, Liao Yimei, from a story by An Dun.

Crew: Camera (color, HD), Gao Hu; editor, Mou Xiaojie, Gao Bing; music, Qubo; production designer, Chen Gungming; sound (Dolby Digital), Wung Young; associate producer Li Xiaowan. Reviewed at Tribeca Cinemas, New York, April 13, 2005. (In Tribeca Film Festival -- competing.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With: With: Zhou Xun, Wu Jun, Cai Ming, Su Xiaoming, Wang Pelyi.

More Film

  • 'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in

    'Tomb Raider' Star Simon Yam in Hospital After Stabbing

    Hugely popular Hong Kong actor, Simon Yam was stabbed while on stage Saturday at a presentation in Zhongshan, Guangdong province in southern China. He is in hospital recovering. The incident happened at the opening of a branch of the Beijing Easyhome building materials company, where Yam was a guest. A man was seen rushing on [...]

  • Brazilian President Jair Bolosnaro attends the

    Bolsonaro Threatens Brazil’s Central Film Fund with Censorship or Closure

    In typical shoot-from-the-hip remarks, Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro has declared that Ancine, Brazil’s powerful state-backed federal film agency, should accept “filters”or face closure. “If it can’t have a filter, we’ll close Ancine, or privatize it,” Bolsonaro added, attacking Ancine, which plows some $300 million a year into Brazil’s film and TV industries, for supporting [...]


    Director Sara Gouveia on ‘Looking At Resilience Through Art’

    DURBAN–The Mapiko dance of Mozambique’s indigenous Makonde people was long used as a tool for social commentary. But during the colonial era it became an act of political resistance, prompting the Portuguese to stamp it out during Mozambique’s 10-year war for independence. Decades later, the art has been revived as a celebration of freedom. For [...]

  • Don Edkins

    Documentary Filmmaker Don Edkins on ‘Creating an African Voice’ 

    DURBAN–For the 10th Durban FilmMart (DFM), the industry program of the Durban Intl. Film Festival, a new strand was created to look at the unique challenges and opportunities facing documentary filmmakers in Africa. The two-day program, Durban Does Docs, offers a series of conversations, seminars and workshops with an intensive focus on the aesthetics, funding, distribution [...]

  • A Faithful Man

    Film Review: 'A Faithful Man'

    French actor Louis Garrel has been married twice, first to Iranian talent Golshifteh Farahani, and now to model-cum-actress Laetitia Casta. He has also directed two features, the first a free-wheeling love-triangle comedy called “Two Friends” in which Garrel plays the cad who comes between his best friend and the object of his obsession (played by [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content