×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Little Moth

Writer-helmer-editor Peng Tao's heartbreaking second feature melds the anger and storytelling scope of Dickens, the doc-influenced immediacy and sensitive gaze of the Dardenne brothers, and the best tendencies of recent Chinese cinema.

With:
With: Hong Qifa, Han Dequn, Zhao Huihui, Zhang Lei, Gao Yuanbing, Xu Zelin, Zeng Xiaorong. (Hubei, Mandarin dialogue)

“Little Moth,” writer-helmer-editor Peng Tao’s heartbreaking second feature following last year’s “Red Snow,” melds the anger and storytelling scope of Dickens, the doc-influenced immediacy and sensitive gaze of the Dardenne brothers, and the best tendencies of recent Chinese cinema. Further indication of the reach of the country’s indie filmmakers, pic’s depiction of the casual exploitation of orphaned kids by adult scumbags will draw strong fest and distrib interest, and no small controversy on the Mainland.

Things begin quietly, with country bumpkin Luo (Hong Qifa) and wife Guihua (Han Dequn) visiting Hubei province to apparently adopt little Xiao Ezi, aka Little Moth (Zhao Huihui), whose mother has died and whose father is an unemployed drunk. Just as dire is the tot’s inability to walk, due to a condition brought on by toxic blood poisoning. The new parents aren’t acting out of love, however: Luo is desperate to make the big bucks, and purchases Little Moth with the intention of using her to beg alongside Guihua on city streets.

A growing gap subtly develops between husband and wife, however, as Guihua’s maternal instincts kick in, and she begins to care for Little Moth as if she were own. Luo, meanwhile, is intent on saving cash, even if it means not buying meds for the sick girl.

Bit by bit, strangers begin intruding on their scam: Zhong (Zeng Xiaorong) eyes Little Moth on the street and offers to adopt her; two thugs demand protection money from Luo; and a shady figure and fellow child exploiter, Yang (Xu Zelin), tells Luo that he’s onto him. In the tale’s devilish schema, crooks prey on crooks, with innocents left in the middle.

Things fall apart, and the way Peng stages the unraveling of this rather sick family is extraordinarily telling in how it shows those on the lowest rung of China’s social ladder climbing over each other to get ahead. Finale is characteristically subdued and cinematically disciplined for showing rather than telling, but gut-wrenching in its long-term dramatic implications.

Perfs by mostly nonpros and low-key production values are aces and a half, with Hong’s Luo a fascinating portrait of how low a man without resources can stoop. Notably, there’s nary a moment that tries to wring easy melodrama or sentiment, or use cute Zhao to tug at aud heartstrings. This is tough realism in the best sense, where drama and doc intertwine.

Popular on Variety

Little Moth

China

Production: A New Youth Independent Film Studio production. Produced by Peng Tao, Zeng Wenwen. Executive producer, Wang Shaofeng. Directed, written, edited by Peng Tao, based on the novel "Xue Chan" by Bai Tianguang.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Huang Yi; production designer, Hu Qingsheng; sound, Wu Zheng. Reviewed at Vancouver Film Festival (Dragons & Tigers), Oct. 1, 2007. (Also in Locarno, Vienna film festivals.) Running time: 100 MIN.

With: With: Hong Qifa, Han Dequn, Zhao Huihui, Zhang Lei, Gao Yuanbing, Xu Zelin, Zeng Xiaorong. (Hubei, Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Maleficent Mistress of Evil

    Box Office: Why 'Maleficent: Mistress of Evil' Fizzled

    Despite nabbing first place at the domestic box office, Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” debuted significantly below expectations and demonstrated that even the most powerful studio in Hollywood is susceptible to missteps. The follow-up to 2014’s “Maleficent” kicked off in North America with a lackluster $36 million bow, an underwhelming result for a film that [...]

  • Gavel Court Placeholder

    Netflix Movie Scammer Admits to Defrauding Investors Out of $14 Million

    A California man has admitted to defrauding investment groups — nabbing $14 million — by falsely claiming the money would be used to produce a feature film for Netflix. On Oct. 18, Adam Joiner, 41, of Manhattan Beach, Calif., pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in U.S. District Court, according to federal authorities. [...]

  • Tio-Yim

    Morelia Film Festival Highlights Mexican Indigenous Women Filmmakers

    This year’s Morelia Intl. Film Festival (FICM), with support from a FilmWatch scholarship awarded by the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will host a Mexican Indigenous Filmmakers: Identity and New Narratives forum for women directors. Issues such as diversity, identity, gender equity, inclusion and broader topics such as the challenges of film [...]

  • lighthouse

    Festival Winners, Oscar Hopefuls Vie for BIFA International Award (EXCLUSIVE)

    The long list for the coveted best international picture prize at the British Independent Film Awards includes Cannes Palme d’Or and London Film Festival winners, as well as pictures from Pedro Almodovar, Robert Eggers and Noah Baumbach. Multiple titles that have been submitted to compete for the Oscar for best international feature film are also [...]

  • Parasite

    Mexico’s Cinepolis Launching New Arthouse Distributor with ‘Parasite’ (EXCLUSIVE)

    MORELIA, Mexico – There’s a new arthouse player in town. Cinepolis, one of the top exhibitors in the world, is launching a new arthouse film distribution unit in Mexico called Sala de Arte Distribucion. Focusing on auteur films that have premiered at leading film festivals worldwide, Sala de Arte launches in December with “Parasite,” Bong [...]

  • Francis Ford CoppolaFrancis Ford Coppola Masterclass,

    Francis Ford Coppola's Slam on Marvel Films Fuels Debate Sparked by Martin Scorsese

    Disparaging remarks by Francis Ford Coppola have further inflamed the debate sparked by Martin Scorsese and his criticism of Marvel and other comic book films. At a press conference in Lyon, France, where he was being honored at the Lumiere festival, the “Godfather” director said he fully agreed with Scorsese’s assessment and went even further [...]

  • Angelina Jolie is Maleficent and Elle

    China Box Office: Hollywood Sweeps Up With ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Gemini Man’

    The first Hollywood blockbusters to hit China after the country’s big National Day holiday have, as expected, swept away holdover patriotic titles that had previously ruled the box office. “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” edged out another new release, “Gemini Man,” to lead the pack with a $22.5 million opening weekend. While Disney’s “Maleficent” arrived in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content