China’s Stolen Children

Affecting but disingenuous docu "China's Stolen Children" explores the booming kiddie trade and the growing epidemic of child kidnappings taking place in the wake of China's one-child policy.

With:
With: Zhu, Chen Lung, Chen Li, Wang Li, Way Ling. Narrator: Ben Kingsley. (English narration, Mandarin dialogue)

Affecting but disingenuous docu “China’s Stolen Children” explores the booming kiddie trade and the growing epidemic of child kidnappings taking place in the wake of China’s one-child policy. Featuring a private eye, the parents of a kidnapped boy, a trafficker and a young couple forced to sell their newborn girl, pic uncovers rampant illegal abuses resulting from the collision of long-term communist planning and short-term capitalist expediency. Clandestinely filmed, BAFTA-winning docu, narrated by Ben Kingsley, airs on HBO July 14.

A throwback to expose-style reportage that never questions its own morally righteous stance, the British pic — produced by the same team responsible for the policy-changing “The Dying Rooms,” about Chinese orphanages — conveniently elides all distinctions and shades of gray in its tacit horror over the merchandizing of youngsters’ progeny. Director-d.p. Jezza Neumann lumps together the consensual brokering of children (a sleazy variation on the lawyer-arranged paid adoptions common in Western society) with the docu’s ostensible subject, outright abduction.

Docu divides its focus between two main stories, each with a cluster of characters. One revolves around the kidnapping case of 5-year-old Chen Jie, his distraught parents and the ex-cop, Zhu, whom they’ve hired to investigate, since the authorities seem more concerned with covering up kidnappings than solving them.

Along the way, the filmmakers accompany Zhu on a wild ride to rescue a kidnapped woman from a sex ring, her family riding shotgun.

Remarkably candid trafficker Wang Li and his clients occupy the doc’s other strand. Wang, who himself sold his youngest son, utters the pic’s most memorable line when he admits there must be something wrong with trading people like commodities, but he cannot figure out what it is. He promises a couple, too young at 18 and 19 to marry and thus unable to grant their child legal status, that he will to try his best to find a good home and good price for their baby girl (the better the home, the lower the price).

Reading between the lines, it becomes apparent that the widening disparity between rich and poor, caused by the country’s unprecedented industrial boom, has made a mockery of China’s old “shared sacrifice for the general good” concept of population control while playing havoc with its inflexible bureaucracy.

Since laws are enforced through hefty fines, the poor can barely afford authorization for one legal offspring, whereas the rich can easily beget or buy in quantity. Countering the nationwide scarcity of women due to prenatal gender selection and abortion, affluent couples can even choose to buy a future wife for their newly acquired son).

But Neumann proves more prone to sentiment than analysis, relentlessly milking a snapshot of cute little Chen Jie and lingering long on the tears and lamentations of the bereaved parents and grandparents. For those who like their docus colorfully character-filled and uncluttered by ambiguity, “Stolen” delivers the goods.

China's Stolen Children

Docu – U.K.

Production: An HBO Documentary Films (in U.S.) release and presentation of a True Vision production, in association with Channel 4. Produced by Kate Blewett, Brian Woods. Executive producers, Sheila Nevins, Karen Sutcliffe. Supervising producer for HBO, Nancy Abraham. Directed by Jezza Neumann.

Crew: Camera (color, DV), Neumann; editors, Reg Clarke, Neumann, Woods; music, Steve Cooke, Russell Taylor. Reviewed at Human Rights Watch Film Festival, New York, June 24, 2008. Running time: 84 MIN.

With: With: Zhu, Chen Lung, Chen Li, Wang Li, Way Ling. Narrator: Ben Kingsley. (English narration, Mandarin dialogue)

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