Sacrificed Youth is a feature film by director Zhang Nuanxin, based on a novella by Zhang Manling. During the Cultural Revolution, seventeen-year-old Li Chun, daughter of urban intellectuals, is sent to a mountainous village in a Tai (Dai) minority region in Yunnan. Assigned to a family that includes ‘Dadie’ (Father), ‘Yiya’ (Grandmother) and ‘Dage’ (Elder Brother), Li joins a brigade of women who chop bamboo. Envious of the Tai uninhibitedness and sensuality, Li eventually discards her Han clothing and demeanour to ‘go native’. Trouble arises when she befriends a male Chinese intellectual, named Ren Jia, and rejects the love of her ‘Dage’. To avoid the ensuing hostilities, Li leaves the village. Eventually permitted to return to the city, she comes back to the village upon learning of floods that have killed both her Tai family and her Chinese friend.
Sacrificed Youth is filmed in an intimate documentary style, using non-professional actors and a first-person voice-over narrative. It recounts Li’s thoughts on two planes. The first contrasts her Han ‘civilized’ but repressed self with the idealized primal and unfettered Tai ‘other’. Although charmed by the youthful sensuality of Dai culture, Li is also aware of its shortcomings—poverty, ignorance, seasons passed in back-breaking labour, in contrast to Han culture that privileges age and wisdom.
The second relates Li’s past self—bonded with a nurturing environment—to a self-reliant but alienated present/future self. It is a tribute to a lost state of grace, a condition once known but no longer attainable, in which the pre-sexual individual was content within the warm maternal embrace.
—Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture
One of the most famous women film directors in China, Zhang Nuanxin (b. 27 October 1940, Liaoning province; d. 28 May 1995, Beijing) first attracted critical attention in the early 1980s when she published ‘The Modernization of Film Language’, co-authored with her husband Li Tuo, a noted literary critic. The essay criticized the conventional Chinese approach to filmmaking, which views film as no more than an illustration for literary works. Zhang urged her colleagues to pay greater attention to the visual qualities of cinema. The essay sparked a debate among mainland filmmakers and critics and contributed greatly to the rise of a new Chinese cinema.
Graduating from the Directing Department of Beijing Film Academy (BFA) as early as 1962, Zhang had to wait until 1981 to direct her first feature, Drive to Win. This sports film was awarded Best Film prize by the Ministry of Culture in 1981 and earned Zhang Best Director award at the 1982 China Golden Rooster Awards. In many ways, Drive… read more