Arts &
  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 6, No. 4, 2007
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Robert J. Lewis
  Senior Editor
Mark Goldfarb
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Robert Rotondo
Dan Stefik
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Talk to Her
City of God
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Blind Shaft
The Corporation
Station Agent
The Agronomist
Maria Full of Grace
Man Without a Past
In This World
Buffalo Boy
Shake Hands with the Devil
Born into Brothels
The Edukators
Big Sugar
A Long Walk
An Inconvenient Truth
Sisters In Law
Send a Bullet
Banking on Heaven


reviewed by


At the suggestion of the editor, I rented the DVD The Chinese Botanist’s Daughter, directed by Dai Seijie, who first gained international recognition with his exotic Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress (2002). The film played at the 2006 Montreal World Film Festival. It didn’t take long to fall in love with the breathtakingly gorgeous, lush green landscape, and as the film developed, the two sensuous lesbians that were the subject of the film: forbidden love in China.

But being engrossed by a film doesn’t necessarily mean it was good, so I decided to let several weeks pass before writing it up.

If most good films are the sums of their characters and characterizations, two of the four characters are woefully stereotyped: the strict, intolerant botanist father to one of the lesbians, for whom herbs and plants are as deserving of his attention as his daughter; and the son, who, on leave from the army, believes he has fallen in love with Min Li (played by Li Xiaoran), an orphan who has come to study with the botanist. The brother's gross insensitivity and brutal manner are so clichéd as to be almost laughable. And when it comes to being numb-dumb to feedback, his not getting it stretches the limits of credulity: he not only doesn’t notice the girl he wants to marry can’t stand him, but that she’s in love with his sister.

But despite these character mishaps, the tastefully developed and totally engaging off-limits love affair between the precious Mi Li and sympathetic Cheng An (Li Xiaoran) allows the film to soar above its uneven parts.

Co-staring in this highly affecting tale of two worlds is the landscape, both seen and heard. Woven into their relationship is the exotic flora that rustles and shimmers against their bodies as they explore their environment and each other, the mist that soft scarves them, and the sounds of cool, trickling water the hot flesh can’t refuse.

Eventually the father catches them in the act, and the brother, now married to Min Li, must beat her up to redress his humiliation. As for the lovers, since lesbian love cannot survive the prevailing winds in China, the only viable option for Min and Cheng is the best and worst of both worlds.

So with a plot thinner than rice paper, why am I still recommending this film? Because it does what all good films are supposed to do: get you to get involved with and care about the characters. Despite the films many lapses into melodrama and the underwritten male characters, the viewer cannot help but to empathize with these very decent young women as women, who, before they are lesbians are people who love and care for each other. What makes this film linger, or rise above its many flaws, is that it sheds light on what is tragic in the human condition that especially concerns couples who care deeply for each other, but, because of circumstance, are not able to consummate their caring. Seijie’s skillful and sensitive rendering of what the Greek’s understood by tragedy – an event that is all too rare in film today -- insists that I give this film 3.5 out of 5 stars.



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