Stolen Life

"Very Good"

Stolen Life Review


How does the Chinese government choose what to censor? If they read scripts ahead of time, one would expect that they'd never let Stolen Life be made. If there's a more bleak depiction of the terrible life of the hundreds of millions of peasants and migrant workers hopelessly stuck in the underclass, I haven't seen it. Prepare to cringe.

Abandoned by her parents and raised grudgingly by a collection of disinterested relatives, the pretty Yan'ni (Jun Wu), who hides her beauty under a black knit wool hat, grows up alone and miserable. It's a miracle when she's accepted at a university in Beijing, and away she goes, hoping for some kind of new life.

Upon arrival at the school, she meets a friendly and soft-spoken young man named Muyu (Xun Zhou) who doesn't attend the school but drives a delivery van in the area. He helps her move in, and Yan'ni, absolutely starved for affection, falls for him in an instant. Soon they're an item, even as Muyu explains that he's not much of a catch and never expects to become anyone of importance. Still, he promises to love Muyu and to always be good to her.

It isn't long before Yan'ni decides to leave campus and move in with Muyu. It's a fascinating slice of Chinese life to see where he lives: in a rented room deep in the basement of an anonymous building where seemingly hundreds of migrant workers live in an endless maze of hallways and alcoves complete with shops, restaurants, and barber shops. This is an entire underground society, both literally and figuratively. Blinded by love, Muyu finds it all rather romantic rather than appalling. Her college career is soon derailed by the need to make money (selling snacks on the street) and by pregnancy.

And then... disaster. It would be saying too much to reveal what Muyu really has in mind for Yan'ni, but let's just say that Lars Von Trier, famous for putting women through unspeakable horrors in his films, would applaud writer Yiao Limei's plot developments. Yan'ni spirals into a nightmare that will leave you shaking, and the true drama of the film is found in her attempt to overcome all that happens to her. Will she come out stronger? Will she even survive?

Stolen Life is far from fun to watch, but it's fascinating, and both actors turn in remarkably subtle and naturalistic performances. Despite all the drama, director Shaohong Li holds the reins tightly and tells the story calmly and with restraint, making us realize that what's happening here is probably happening every day all over China. And that's a hell of a thing to ponder. Powerful stuff.

Aka Shen si jie.

Hey I want my life back.



Stolen Life

Facts and Figures

Run time: 90 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 23rd April 2005

Production compaines: Orion Pictures

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 80%
Fresh: 4 Rotten: 1

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Shaohong Li

Producer: Xiaowan Li

Starring: Elisabeth Bergner as Sylvina Lawrence / Martina Lawrence, as Alan MacKenzie, as Thomas E. Lawrence, Mabel Terry-Lewis as Aunt Helen, Richard Ainley as Morgan, Kenneth Buckley as Garrett, Daniel Mendaille as Old Pauliac, Pierre Juvenet as Doctor, Stella Arbenina as Nurse, Kaye Seeley as Maturin, Ernest Ferny as Police Supt. Demangeon, Cot D'Ordan as Clerk, Dorice Fordred as Eileen, Annie Esmond as Cook, Clement McCallin as Karal Anderson, Oliver Johnston as Prof. Bardesley, Roy Russell as British Minister, Homer Regus as Mayor

Also starring:

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