DMovies - Your platform for thought-provoking cinema

Kong Xiu/ A Woman

Biopic of obscure Chinese writer intends to celebrate female empowerment but instead slips into tawdry regime propaganda - from the San Sebastian Film Festival


Based on the autobiographical novel Dream by the little-known Chinese writer Zhang Xiu Zhen, Kong Xiu/ A Woman follows the footsteps of the titular character (played by Shen Shi Yu) from her late teens into adulthood, when she becomes a published writer. The story begins in 1967. Her mother tells the 19-year-old Xiu: “you are already one year over the age of consent”, reminding the teenager of the onus of finding a partner that’s often bestowed upon women. This is a well-meaning film about female emancipation. From the perspective of male director Wang Chao and under the strict scrutiny of the Chinese regime.

Now in her early 20s, Xiu marries a man and they have a daughter called Xue. The union is extremely unhappy, and their sex life quickly becomes a burden. Xiu has two abortions in one single year, and can barely carry on with her working duties in local textile factory. She demands a divorce and ends up marrying again. She has yet another child (this time a boy) and yet another very miserable relationship. Her husband attempts to beat the little Xiu more than once, and the little girl ends up living with her aunt. This time it is the male who demands a divorce. Once again, Xiu becomes a single mother. A few years later, she begins to write at her own accord, despite having little education and being barely literate.

Mao Zedong is a character in the film, despite never making an appearance. Characters constantly sing and revere the Chairman of the Communist Party. There is not a word of dissent, no criticism of the establishment. Occasionally corruption takes place in the factory where Xiu works, but this down to an individual’s failure, and has nothing to do with the shortcomings of the Chinese government. Kong Xiu/ A Woman is a propaganda vehicle. A film intended to show the world that China has reinvented itself and is now a modern nation where women can thrive and become independent. It is little surprise that, according to the movie, Xiu has her first piece published by… lo and behold… the magnanimous regime!

It isn’t just the propagandistic tone that makes Kong Xiu/ A Woman a fairly unremarkable film. The middle-of-the-road script lacks vigour. The acting is mostly stilted and contrived. The sex scenes are so poorly staged that they will make you cringe. At least the cinematography is accomplished, with a distinguished Hollywood feel to it. Vast sums of money were clearly poured into this production.

This is the second time that San Sebastian selects a perfunctory Chinese drama celebrating the Cultural Revolution to compete for the much coveted Golden Shell. A heavily censored version of Zhang Yimou’s equally boring One Second took part of the event’s Official Competition just last year, and it left empty-handed. Let’s hope for more audacious Chinese films in the years to come. And perhaps even a female director?

Kong Xiu/ A Woman has just premiered in the Official Competition of the 70th San Sebastian International Film Festival/ Donostia Zinemaldia.

By Victor Fraga - 22-09-2022

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

DMovies Poll

Are the Oscars dirty enough for DMovies?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Most Read

Forget Friday the 13th, Paranormal Activity and the [Read More...]
Just a few years back, finding a film [Read More...]
A lot of British people would rather forget [Read More...]
Pigs might fly. And so Brexit might happen. [Read More...]
Sexual diversity is at the very heart of [Read More...]
Films quotes are very powerful not just because [Read More...]

Read More

One Second (Yi Miao Zhong)

Zhang Yimou

Victor Fraga - 18-09-2021

Zhang Yimou's intended celebration of old-fashioned celluloid cinema constantly slips into cliches and banality - from the 69th San Sebastian International Film Festival [Read More...]

Girls Will Be Girls

Shuchi Talati

Victor Fraga - 17-06-2024

Gifted teen decides to explore her sexuality at her own accord, but any missteps could have serious consequences for her and her family's honour - Indian coming-of-age drama is in Competition at Tiff Romania [Read More...]

The Performance

Shira Piven

Victor Fraga - 16-06-2024

Jewish American tap dancer has to stomp his way to the top of the Nazi regime, in what's possibly the worst film adaptation of Arthur Miller ever made - from the 23rd edtion of Tiff Romania [Read More...]

Facebook Comment

Website Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *