When Ruoma Was Seventeen

"Very Good"

When Ruoma Was Seventeen Review


When Ruoma Was Seventeen is a beautiful and bittersweet film, a coming-of-age tale that simultaneously gives us a small peek into the rapidly escalating clash between the Old China and New China as the huge country races to modernize.

Modernization seems a long way from the remote corner of the southwestern province of Yunnan, where the beautiful Ruoma, a 17-year old member of the Hani ethnic minority, lives a fairly simply existence among the stunning flooded agricultural terraces that are the area's most notable attraction. Sharing a dirt home with her aged grandmother, who never leaves her loom, Ruoma sells roasted corn at the town market and minds her own business. She's surprised and embarrassed one day when a Western tourist asks to take her picture. She's certainly photogenic. Her daily dress is Hani: colorful textiles decorated with many dangling gold adornments.

Watching all this is the more worldwise Aming (Yang Zhigang), a slightly older local and aspiring photographer who is eager to make money and see the world (a poster of the World Trade Center hangs in his home.) He realizes that Ruoma can make money -- lots of money -- simply by posing for tourist photos out by the terraces. Plopping her on the back of his motorbike, they head out to the scenic overlook, and soon Ruoma is raking it in simply by smiling for the tourists in her Hani finery.

Ruoma has a bit of a crush on Aming, and he makes vague promises about taking her to a city (her dream is to ride in an elevator), but he already has a girlfriend who occasionally blows in from the city and condescends to Ruoma and all the other locals. Ruoma looks at the Westernized woman as if she's a creature from another planet.

The suspense here is in wondering what will happen if and when Ruoma is finally exposed to too much of the modern world or if her naiveté is taken advantage of by Aming, by his girlfriend, or by anyone else. Ruoma is so innocent and so sweet that the thought of anything bad happening to her is simply unbearable.

China has more than 40 ethnic minorities, and one service this film provides is to capture some of the Hani's songs, dances, and harvest rituals, all of which Ruoma takes part in with great joy, especially the one where men and women hurl big globs of mud at each other, hoping to hit their secret sweethearts squarely in the face. (It's part of the rice planting ritual.) The last thing Ruoma needs, you'll think, is to be taken away from this simple life, and yet the world encroaches.

Aka Ruoma de shi qi sui, When Ruoma Was 17.

One more year and she can't vote.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 88 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 16th June 2007

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

IMDB: 7.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Zhang Jiarui

Producer: Hou Keming, Wang Zeliang

Starring: Li Min as Ruoma, Zhigang Yang as Aming

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