“Two Women in Red Scarves” is the latest slice of rural drama from Mainland Chinese novelist turned director Han Zhijun, which sees him following up his well-received humanistic ‘Village’ trilogy with more of the same. Again focusing largely on his female characters, he gently explores the lives of women in the Chinese countryside, aiming to provide a realistic depiction of the challenges and hardships they face, though without straying too far from the path of good, old fashioned storytelling. The film proved to be another popular hit, being awarded the Jury Special Prize at the 8th Changchun Film Festival, and winning critical acclaim at Chinese Panorama 2007 festival, where it was hailed as one of the highlights of the event.
The film is set in a small, isolated village in the snowy mountains of Northeast China and follows feisty thirty-something widow Xifeng (played by award-winning actress television actress Zheng Weili), who seems to have a crush on her neighbour, single father Yang Tianlong. Unfortunately, Yang is a troublesome sort who spends most of his time hunting illegally in the mountains, trying to bring home food for his two young daughters. One day, he accidentally shoots and injuries his other neighbour, a young woman called Shuangyu, leaving her crippled and without marriage prospects. Wracked with guilt, Yang hands himself in over to the police and spends two years in jail, with Xifeng looking after his children and pining quietly for his return. After he gets out and returns to the village, complications ensure when a young man called Er Gouzi called comes to stay with him and decides to act as matchmaker, attempting to bring him and the lonely Shuangyu together. Although Yang himself is carrying a torch for Xifeng, as a jailbird he does not think that he is good enough for her, and so goes along with the plan. Needless to say, this does not sit well with Xifeng herself, and the stage is set for all manner of chaste romantic entanglements and misunderstandings.
“Two Women in Red Scarves” is a simple tale, which although predictable from the start is no less charming for it. Certainly, writer and director Han focuses more upon his characters and their emotions rather than any notions of drama or tension, and whilst there are plenty of soap opera style shenanigans and twists to keep the viewer wondering as to who will end up with who, the film engages mainly as a result of its quietly humanistic approach. Rather than aiming for overt romance, he seems to be portraying the characters as striving for harmony and for what is right, and as such the film is basically quite a moral affair. This impression is furthered by the fact that there are no villains in the tale, only a few misinterpreted good intentions, and as such it also works well as a gentle comedy. This is not to say that Han ignores the difficulties faced by people in such a bleak rural region, or that he fails to pass any comments on the particular roles of women in such traditional areas, though he wisely keeps such themes firmly in the background, and never allows them to interfere with the story. It helps that the characters are a likeable, believable bunch, and the warmth with which he brings out their humanity gives the film as a whole a down to earth, genuine feel.
Unsurprisingly, he makes considerable use of the breathtaking mountain scenery, with the snow and ice giving the film a unique, serene look. There is plenty of local colour in the form of singing and colourful costumes, and as such the film does at times have the air of a timeless folk song. His direction is naturalistic and unintrusive, and he captures the everyday lives of the characters and the village in a pleasingly unforced manner, showing a good eye for detail and achieving an impressive sense of intimacy.
As a result, although quiet and unassuming, “Two Women in Red Scarves” makes for involving and surprisingly touching viewing, with Han managing to say far more about life in rural China through his warmly humanistic approach than the vast majority of film makers who adopt the more popular pseudo-documentary style. Free from politics or needless subtexts, it offers a highly enjoyable tale of life and love that should be enjoyed by all viewers.
Han Zhijun (director) / Han Zhijun (screenplay)
CAST: Ma Shi Hong, Zheng Wei Li, Guan Xiao Ping, Zhao Xiao Yi, Wu Lian Sheng