MGLFF Review: The Chinese Botanist's Daughter
It's easy to lose yourself in the jungle island that serves as a home for grumpy and finicky botanist Chen (Ling Dong Fu) and Cheng An (Xiao Ran Li), the daughter who tends to his every need. It's a lush and exotic refuge from an intolerant and unforgiving society. No wonder Cheng An feels comfortable embarking on an affair with her father's new intern, Min Li (the seductive Mylne Jampano). Unfortunately the island's real and symbolic sense of isolation also becomes the fatal flaw in director Sijie Dai's extremely timid and unrevealing exploration of lesbian love in contemporary China. You never feel you have learned much about the Chinese's views on homosexuality. The secret lovers rarely step off the island, and when they do, they behave like any other same-sex couple unwilling to draw attention to themselves in public. The outside world does infringe upon Cheng An and Min Li's privacy in the form of the botanist's son, Dan (Wei-chang Wang), a soldier whom Min Li marries so she can remain on the island. But any physical and emotional harm Dan inflicts upon Min Li can be attributed to his anger at the thought that another man has already deflowered his supposedly virgin bride. Chen's too preoccupied with whether his tea is made from rainwater to notice anything going on between the women. When all is revealed, Dai rushes to reveal that the Chinese aren't gay-friendly folks. That doesn't exactly come as a big surprise, but sadly Dai doesn't explain why homosexuality is regarded as "a disease" in China. This is a just a sad case of a well-intentioned director being unable to see the Chinese mainland for the trees.
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