“EGG AND STONE”
A Chinese Coming of Age Drama
Director Huang Ji in her autobiographical feature debut takes audiences to the village where she grew up in China’s rural Hunan province. Her parents moved to the city to work, so she at 14-years-old must now live with her aunt and uncle. She is left to deal with her fears and her desires as well as her sexual awakening.
Director Huang Ji’s has visual sophistication and cinema polish. She most certainly also knows how to tell a story. We meet Honggui (Honngui Yao) sitting on her bed as menstrual blood runs down her leg and this sets the scene for what is to follow.
We see from this opening that we’re going to see a purposely-constructed work of feminist thought and new womanhood as our hero deals with her internal struggles. It is not until later that we learn that she was left with her aunt and uncle with her parents move to the city to find employment. She feels ignored and alienated by her extended family and the only vale she is in her outward appearance. She has been told in Buddhist parables about menstruation is a form of sin. Her environment was one of isolation and her only escape is her spending time with a local boy who gave her a stone-carved stamp that she uses to make art out of her menstrual blood, demonstrating ambivalence and confusion about her role as a woman. The way she lives shows the ongoing statement of gender relegation in modern China where a woman is only as valuable as the healthy baby boy she’s able to conceive. Honggui’s aunt and uncle eventually exploit her for her ability to procreate.
This is an intensely personal and emotional film about sexual abuse. Director Huang Ji spotlights contemporary Chinese gender inequity. Honggui was only supposed to stay with her aunt and uncle for two years, but she has spent the last seven in their Hunan village. Her aunt clearly resents her continued presence, but her uncle is suspiciously fine with it. The fourteen year-old gets pregnant and this puts her in a precarious position within a society that is very judgmental. However, if she has a boy, it becomes a marketable commodity.
Honggui’s life is profoundly complicated by two social dynamics, the illegal urban migration caused by extreme rural poverty and China’s cultural preference for boys over girls. Of course, the Party is not eager to discuss any of this, particularly in light of their only slightly relaxed One Child policy.
This is a profoundly political film that was shot in shot on location in the same provincial town where director Huang Ji herself was sexually abused by her uncle. There are not any of the trademarks of Western movies that deal with the subject of sexual violence against children. There is just a shy young girl who desperately tries to survive her intense life.
Honggui hardly speaks to her uncle and aunt, and her only solace is a teenage boy about her age who gives her rides around town but their puppy love doesn’t last because the boy, who works in a nearby mine, soon leaves town to find a better job in the city. All the while Honggui struggles alone in the dark when she realizes her period is hopelessly late.
Huang has said that she wants to convey through Honggui’s non-communicative and extremely shy character how ‘left-behind’ children often have no one to turn to and are left utterly silenced and alone. The film has many shots and stills to capture the mood of the main character’s hushed suffocation in her dingy room and surroundings. The many frames of the sealed window inside Honggui’s dark room reflect the insular world of a deeply frightened and troubled child and we a sense of helplessness and desperation of neglect and sexual violation.