Emily Tang is one of the key directors of the young Chinese indie wave of the last decade: her Conjugaison (2001) was one of the first fiction films to take on the aftermath of 1989; her second feature, Perfect Life (2008) won VIFF’s Dragons and Tigers Award in 2008. Tang’s work has always focused on the specificity and integrity of women’s experiences in China. All Apologies is the latest step in her vitally important project of exploring the limits and opportunities of women’s existence in a still substantially male-dominated Chinese society.
In Guilin, one of the most picturesque towns of southern China, two couples live beside each other on a typically scruffy “unpicturesque” Chinese street. Qiaoyu (Yang Shuting) and her husband Heman (Gao Jin) run a small shop. They sell food to slightly more upwardly mobile Xun Zhen (Liang Jing), who is married to construction foreman Yonggui (Cheng Taisheng). This second couple has a small son who has just been admitted to a key school for promising children. When the son hitches a ride on Heman’s tractor, disaster strikes: the boy is killed, and Heman is seriously injured. Heman is blamed, and suddenly the terms of what might, in less skillful hands, be standard melodrama starkly emerge: Heman and Qiaoyu, unable to pay compensation, “owe” Xun Zhen and Yonggui a son. Tang shapes this dramatic situation with fluency and subtle power. The extraordinary demands Yonggui makes on Qiaoyu, the ensuing secret arrangements, the heroic forbearance and courage required of Qiaoyu, drive this gripping film to its powerful conclusion. –Shelly Kraicer