Pingguo ('Apple'), a foot masseuse, and her husband An Kun, who cleans the windows of high-rise office blocks, are poor migrants from north-east China struggling to make a better living in contemporary Beijing. When An Kun sees his wife being raped by her boss Lin Dong through the plate-glass windows of a commercial building he is working outside, and Pingguo subsequently discovers she is pregnant, Pingguo's body and child-bearing capability become merely the objects of a sordid series of financial transactions between the two men. However, An Kun's clumsy attempts at first to blackmail and then extort money from Lin Dong in return for handing over Pingguo's unborn child prove counter-productive, and in the end both men lose their estranged wives while neither succeeds in gaining possession of Pingguo's baby or of the money which was to have facilitated their cosy arrangement.
Li Yu (b. Jinan, Shandong Province, 1973) is one of China's best-known female directors. She began her career in film and television at a very young age working as a local TV presenter in Shandong, before moving on to become a television director and screenwriter with China Central Television. Her early films for television were all documentaries, but in 2001 she embarked on a new, high-risk career as an independent feature film-maker with Fish and Elephant, a highly personal and largely self-funded project regarded as China's first explicitly lesbian movie. However, Li Yu decided to make this film as part of a much broader interest in depicting the condition of women of all kinds in China today, not only lesbians, from a broadly feminist standpoint, and this wider interest is apparent in several of her subsequent films, notably Dam Street (2005), Lost in Beijing (2007) and Ever Since We Love (2015), all of which feature heterosexual women from very different backgrounds in leading roles. Moreover, beginning in 2007 with Lost in Beijing, Li Yu has also established a close collaboration with Fan Bingbing, one of China's best-known models and actresses, whose participation has greatly enhanced the box office appeal of her more recent films.
Dr. Michael CLARK (King's College London)
'Lost in Beijing' is a bleak portrayal of contemporary Chinese gender and sexual politics in an era of ruthless commercial exploitation and commodification of human labour power, female sexuality and women's reproductive power. When An Kun first sees Lin Dong taking advantage of his semi-comatose wife, we the viewers share his sense of outrage, anguish and hurt pride, but as we see him firstly taking out his anger on his wife and then seeking to exploit the situation purely for financial gain, our sympathy for him is progressively dissipated and we come to see An Kun as no better than Lin Dong, who although a habitual womaniser is at least prepared to face some of the consequences of his actions and assume a degree of parental responsibility. At the same time, we also see how in a society where wealth and economic opportunities are very largely controlled by men, and which completely commodifies female sexuality and reproductive power, women like Pingguo and Lin Dong's childless wife Wang Mei have little choice but to behave in apparently cynical and deceitful ways, if they are to retain any degree of control over their bodies and their lives. Seldom have the effects of commercialism on the nature and quality of even the most intimate human relations been so searchingly exposed and unflinchingly portrayed.
Like the director's earlier movies, Lost in Beijing features a variety of cinematic styles and narrative modes, ranging from hand-held documentary-style close-up footage to more detached and distant views, from the intimate to the impersonal, and from docudrama to melodrama. While the choice of shots, camera angles and depth of focus sometimes feels somewhat arbitrary and erratic, the cinematography seldom detracts from the clarity of representation or the force of the narrative. The film has been criticised for its somewhat contrived and improbable plot, and for the unpredictable twists and turns of the characters' emotional reactions, but the sheer importance of the issues around the commodification and control of women's bodies and reproductive capacity which lie at the film's heart may surely be held to justify occasional lapses into melodrama.