When Ruoma Was Seventeen.
(RUOMA DE SHIQI SUI)
A Beijing Youth Film Studio, Yunnan Red River Hani Autonomous Peoples Government, Yunnan Liang Li Film & TV Co. production. (International sales: Liang Li Film, Kunming, China.) Produced by Hou Keming, Wang Licheng. Executive producers, Yang Hongwei, Tang Mingsheng, Zheng Zhiping.
Directed by Zhang Jiarui. Screenplay, Meng Jiazong. Camera (color), Ma Dongge; editor, Zhou Ying; music, Huang Zhenyu, Dong Wei; art director, Zhang Chongming; costumes, Guo Xiaoyan; sound (Dolby), Yang Zhanshan; assistant directors, Qian Qinhua, Lei Long. Reviewed on videocassette, London, Dec. 7, 2002. Running time: 89 MIN.
With: Li Min, Yang Zhigang, Li Cui, Zhulinyuan, Ma Jie, Sang Yi, Li Long, Gao Rui.
(Mandarin, Hani dialogue)
A tale of utmost simplicity, set amid the stunning terraced landscapes of southern China, "When Ruoma Was Seventeen" just about manages to escape as a movie from beneath its exotic ethnic embroidery. First feature by TV helmer Zhang Jiarui, about a young Hani-minority woman who dreams of leaving her village, is helped by considered direction and a quietly touching perf by young newcomer Li Min in the title role. Film opened in China in November, and looks likely to attain some fest berths next year.
Picture in many ways recalls mid-'80s titles like "A Girl of Good Family" and "Sacrifice of Youth," which took a more realistic view of life among China's minorities compared with earlier Mainland movies, but still made the most of the colorful opportunities on display. Set in the Ailao Mountains, in southern Yunnan province, "Ruoma" is much more natural and realistic, with plentiful use of the Hani language alongside Mandarin. Only weakness is the idealized portrait of the Hanis compared with their flawed Chinese cousins.
Ruoma (Li Min), who lives with her granny (Li Cui) amid the terraced rice paddies, is a bright-faced, optimistic teenager who goes to town every day to sell roasted sweetcorn by the roadside. Be-friended by penniless photog Ming (newcomer Yang Zhigang), she ends up posing for tourists against scenic views for 10 yuan ($1.25) a pop.
The arrival of Ming's no-nonsense g.f., Lili (Sang Yi), scuppers some of Ruoma's romantic dreams about the older man. However, when Lili leaves in a huff, Ruoma and Ming are thrown together again. The latter promises the young woman that one day he'll take her to the big city to ride in a glass elevator--just like her married friend, Luoxia (Zhulinyuan), once did. So when Ming announces he's leaving town, Ruoma hatches the idea of going with him.
The story is wispy thin and relies a lot on its setting to maintain interest; but Zhang directs with a simple elegance that doesn't overdo the exoticism. Li Min's unaffected charm as Ruoma makes the coming-of-age story avoid cuteness, and music is effectively and sparingly used. Other perfs are OK, and technical credits tip-top.