Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 05, 2018 9:36 pm 
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Vulnerable women in China

The images in Angels Wear White are pretty and at the center of it is a quartet of delicate young Chinese girls. The scene is a motel, one that's modern and spacious and where the rooms aren't cheap, at a seaside location with large dunes like sculptures - and a giant sculpture of Marilyn Monroe that runs through the film. Two are very young schoolgirls, twelve years old. Another, Mia (Vicky Chen), is a teenager and a working girl, doing menial chores at the motel. The last is a bit older and more sophisticated, Lili (Peng Jing), a clerk at the motel. Mia knows what has gone on in he room through a surveillance camera and records its record on her hand phone, but she hides what she knows. Lili's wiley ways infect her.

The central event is an ugly one, the sexual exploitation of a young girl, perhaps two, by a middle-aged man, who's never seen directly. Lili and Mia cover this up when an investigation takes place.

A desultory police investigation proceeds off and on, while the camera follows around the exploited young girl and the teenager. There surely is a good story here somewhere. But it doesn't seem the filmmaker, Vivian Qu, knows quite how to structure her tale. Though never anything but watchable, this film meanders and runs off on tangents, never quite gaining momentum. It is too diffuse.

Boyd van Hoeij commented in Hollywood Reporterat Angels' Venice debut that it's "Luminously filmed but restrained to a fault," and thought its final shot packs "an impressive punch," Qu's drama wants to suggest something about the precarious position of women in China, but exactly what "is harder to pin down." That may also have been true of Qu's first film, Trap Street (reviewed on Filmleaf in 2014 ND/NF coverage). That was in Venice's Critic Week, while this feature made it into the main competition on the Lido and later to Toronto; she is making steady progress. The texture of her films is satisfying even if their thrust is vague.

In some ways Trap Street may have succeeded better with its more complicated, less focused material, which contained many similar elements - hotel rooms, pretty young girls, surveillance cameras, with the added attractions of youthful romance and richer mystery. Angels Wear White touches on today's awareness of sexual harassment and is beautiful to look at.

Angels Wear White 嘉年华 (Jiā Nián Huá), 107 mins., debuted in competition at Venice 2017 and has played or will play in a total of at least 34 international festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival in April 2018, where it was screened for this review.

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