Friday, September 14, 2012

CinDi 2012: Egg and Stone (Jidan he Shitou, China) 2012

Part of MKC's Coverage of the 6th Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival.

By Rex Baylon

The Chinese film Egg and Stone tackles an issue that has been circulating around the news lately: rape. To be more precise, the rape and exploitation of young teenage girls by couples with no way to conceive. The tragic irony is that China, a nation on the up-and-up as it takes over the world’s manufacturing burden is, outside of a few densely packed metropolises, still a very poor and impoverished country. Progress is paid for by the blood of the poor and the cogs of that machine need it on a daily basis to keep the gears moving.

For Honggui, the female protagonist of Egg and Stone, any illusions that her future could hold anything other then the drudgery of housework or the boredom of a village life has long eroded with the crippling realization of her second-class status mainly as a result of the sexual organs she was born with. Although China may need more and more bodies to fill its factories and skyscrapers, a woman’s value is still gauged by her ability to conceive and rear a healthy baby boy. Sadly, anything less than that and women are pushed farther down the totem pole. The fate of many infant girls involve either abandonment, adoption by overseas families, or being sent away to childless families in the countryside to be worked like cattle.

In Honggui’s case her mother had long ago sent her away to live with her aunt and uncle while her parents found jobs in the city, busily working to try and build a better life. Treated as nothing more than a servant, Honggui spends most of her time alone in her room, locked away like a modern day Rapunzel. It’s a telling detail that the few compliments she gets from people, be they young or old, is how pretty she looks. The only time Honggui seems comfortable in her own skin is when she spends time with a local boy her age. They are not really a couple yet I hesitate to call them friends. They are more like companions, both victims of the circumstances they were born into.

However, as the years went by Honggui grew into womanhood and her parents had expanded their family, forgotten about her in the process. A fact that is made painfully clear to Honggui, when she tries to call her mother for help about the little problem growing inside her but is politely shooed away by a child’s voice, no doubt a younger brother. The poor little girl that her parents never wanted is now a pregnant teenager alone and forced to fend for herself, another victim of China’s global progress.    

As far as feature film debuts go, Huang Ji’s Egg and Stone fits nicely into the documentary realist mode of filmmaking epitomized by Sixth Generation Mainland Chinese auteurs like Jia Zhangke or Li Yang. In fact, while watching Huang’s debut I couldn’t help but be reminded of the documentaries Up the Yangtze (2007) and Last Train Home (2009), two films that also feature female protagonists from poor rural villages who must grow up before they are ready to take on the responsibility of adulthood.

Mining her traumatic past, the director, Huang Ji, does a good job of showing the audience the effects that sexual violence and institutionalized misogyny can do to a young woman. Of course at times the visual, as well as allegorical, symbolism she uses can get a bit too heavy-handed, shots of Honggui’s splayed legs and a Buddhist parable concerning the original sin which all women must commit once a month, are all too on-the-nose for the film’s own good. Aside from that though, Egg and Stone is a very powerful document of a forgotten but essential minority in China, and for that reason it is a film that deserves to be seen.


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