One of the best films I previewed at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, ANGELS WEAR WHITE proves its excellence on second viewing. This is writer/director Vivian Qu at her best, with her tense, relevant and powerful film of young female abuse.
Young women under pressure in a corrupt seaside town. The question Qu’s excellent study is whether one can hold on to ones dignity in the midst of such over-powering adversity.
One reason Qu’s film works so well is that she is able to get right into the skin of her characters’ emotions. This tactic can be observed several times within only the film’s first 15 minutes. When Mia (Vicky Chen) is first introduced, the audience sees her observing what appears to be a huge statue of Marylyn Monroe. The camera never reveals the full statue, as if telling the audience that the height of her stays can never be reached. Mia looks up and down as the camera follows her to her work in a seedy seaside motel, where she is watering the plants. What is going on in her head? When she later watches the closed circuit camera on the goings-on in a motel room where two young schoolgirls are accosted for sex, the audience becomes a voyeur while at the same time wishing Mia would intervene. A later argument at the hospital shows a vigorous argument taking place between the father and mother of one for the schoolgirls as she is being tested for her virginity. Qu shoots the argument off screen where the audience can only hear (or read the subtitles) without seeing the actors, thus emphasizing the importance of the words.
Qu also captures the essence of Chinese society and all its corruptness. The first is the higher ups, Commissioner Liu abusing his authority. On a lower level, corruptness is still apparent. Mia records a larger number of towels than actually taken to be washed to the daily laundry pick-up while she gets a kickback. The school system is candidly shown with a school prefect stopping a fight and how students are chastised in the school system. When Mia is questioned by the inspector on the illegal goings-on, she remains silent – typical of the Chinese way of say nothing, get into no trouble. The inspector is also shown accepting a bribe from the hotel owner.
Female director Qu’s film has a strong female slant. The main characters are female, most of them mistreated by their male counterparts. When the male motel manager wants the truth out of Mia and the hotel receptionist as to what happened, he hoses them down with water. Women have it bad. “I don’t want to be re-born as a woman.” That all-important line says to all, when Lily suffers the pain from hymen reconstruction (to show that she is still a virgin).
Qu’s film is beautifully shot by Belge cinematographer Benoît Dervaux. There is one crystal clearly shot scene where Mia rides her motorbike in a drizzling rain, with no noticeable drops of water on the camera lens.
The film’s most prominent charter that only comes into the story half hour through the film is the female attorney Hao (Shi Ke). This is a well written extremely strong character, brilliantly performed by Shi Ku. Hao must be director Qu’s favourite character, judging from the way the camera tracks her movements. Hao’s character is smart but most important is the fact that she is trustworthy and caring human being. She gains the trust of school Wen (Zhou Meijun) enabling the investigation to progress. This contrasts the male Inspector’s scare tactics.
Qu’s film is intriguing, suspenseful, occasionally exciting and emotional in all aspects. The film’s main conquest is depicting the travails of women in a society so corrupt all all levels that there is little hope for all. But still there is hope in a few that care like lawyer Hao.
Young women user press ANGELS WEAR WHITE is a real knock-out that demands to be seen!