True/False, Full Frame, Sheffield, AFI Docs, Belfast, Shanghai
An unassuming Chinese woman contends with unexpected fame as a poet.
After her intimate poem, “Crossing Half of China to Sleep with You,” spread virally through Chinese social media, Yu Xiuhua became a sensation. Dubbed the “Emily Dickinson of China,” Yu captivated audiences with her backstory – a middle-aged, minimally educated woman farmer in rural Hubei province, living with cerebral palsy. In addition to spotlighting the impact of her newfound public voice, Fan’s film captures the mundane aspects of Yu’s life at home with her elderly parents, tending to daily chores, while she also reflects on a deep-seated loneliness and dissatisfaction stemming from a loveless, arranged marriage to Yin, who is frequently away from home working construction. While Yin is clearly greedy, and has caused Yu decades of unhappiness, her frequent screaming complaints and demands for a divorce grow repetitive and also serve to paint her in an unflattering light. This martial strife clearly informs her poetry of longing and serves as a stark contrast to the sensitivity of her writing, presented here in voiceover and text cards which, while bordering on the pretentious, underscores the escape and creative outlet it provides her.