Guangdong Heroine

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“A heroine has no name.”

This is something of an obscurity. It’s available on YouTube, which is where I saw it, but I was unable to find an IMDb entry for it, or any other information beyond what is present at the source. It’s hard even to tell when it was made, because it’s a period piece, set (I’m going to presume) during the Japanese occupation of Manchuria in the 1930’s. We first meet the heroine (Yu) – who is never referred to as anything except “Guangdong Heroine” – as a schoolgirl, when her and a friend are attacked and raped by foreign soldiers. Unable to cope with the shame, her friend throws herself off the cliff, just before Ms. Heroine is rescued by the timely arrival of a group of rebels. She joins them, and rises up through the ranks, eventually taking over when their leader passes away, naming her as successor.

She becomes a leader of the resistance, famed throughout the province to the extent that various copycats take her name, while carrying out attacks on the occupying forces. But she has issues of her own, worrying that she is not feminine enough to attract the co-rebel for whom she has affection, the equally clunkily-named Tiger Four (Wei). The two eventually begin a relationship, but juggling romance and duty proves problematic. Things come to a head when a group of her soldiers rape a Japanese woman they took captive: Heroine has a zero-tolerance policy for such things and the perpetrators are sentenced to death. Which is awkward, since it eventually turns out that Tiger endorsed their actions. Justice therefore demands that he, too, suffer the same penalty. Will romance trump fairness?

It’s a solidly-made item, though rather confusing. Heroine may have a sister who moonlights as a prostitute. She may also have another sister who is the daughter of a Japanese commanding officer. Or the film’s subtitles may simply be using “sister” in its meaning of Communist camaraderie, it’s hard to tell. The movie needs to be much clearer: it is certainly capable of this, such as when Heroine has her future told by a street fortune-teller. None of the vague “You will go on a journey and meet interesting people” nonsense here. He tells her: “The gap between your eyebrows shows death… In no more than half a month, you will be executed,” adding in a not very reassuring way, “Please don’t take offense. This is predetermined.” Chinese street fortune tellers clearly do not mess about.

Overall though, this is not bad, with some surprisingly epic battle scenes (I’m not sure the American Humane Society would agree, because some of the horse-falls look a little tough; there’s another scene early on which is also not going to impress PETA), and Yu has a steely determination about her that’s appealing. On the other hand, I would likely have been more interested in how she rises from violated schoolgirl, to become the heir apparent of a rebel clan, rather than what she does after she gets there.

Dir: Bai De-Zhang and Xu Xun-Xing
Star: Yu Lan, Lau Wei, Bai De-Zhang, Lisa Lu

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