Movie Review

Angels Wear White (2017) by Vivian Qu

Original Name: Jia Nian Hua

Director: Vivian Qu

Runtime: 107 minutes

Language: Chinese

IMDB Link:

Vivian Qu: was born in China. She has produced the features Night Train (2007), Knitting (2008), and Black Coal, Thin Ice (2014, which won that year’s Golden Bear Award). TRAP STREET (2013) was her directorial debut.

“There have been many news stories about young girls being assault victims, and also many stories about young children participating in some kind of crime. And so that really got me thinking, I was really concerned about what’s happening with our next generation.”

In lesser hands, Angels Wear White could have been a straight noir-crime about the investigation or a heavy crime procedure, or an overdraught message piece that stab at the corruption and holes in Chinese’s Justice, but for Vivian Qu, her lenses of focus is definite: it’s about these young girls and how they experience after that dreadful sexual assault carried out by none other than their God father, a high-ranking police official. The narrative splits evenly between the two girls: Wen (Zhou Meijun) and Mia (Wen Qi), both elevate the material through their effective and fearless acting that are wise beyond their ages, or body acting to be more specific, as gestures and long glances tell you much more about their state of minds. The former, Wen serves as the victim, but the latter only serves as witness’ point of view. They hardly have any connection to each other, except for the case and the interception of Hao (Shi Kei), the lawyer assigned to this case and arguably the only adult who has a right attitude to the whole thing. It’s through Mia’s perspective that the story becomes more ambiguous. As a witness, who looks at the screen when the event happened like all of us, she feels no empathy to what just happened. “It happened before”, she said in one scene afterward, then she uses the recording to blackmail the culprit so that she can have a money to fake her ID, and honestly, who could blame her? It’s the grey moral ground where we don’t bat an eye when seeing the bad things happening, and those bad things can become clean that makes this story intriguing in the first place.

Then we have Wen, one of the two victim and we learn that she has been unhappy with her family situation for a long time. Her mother consistently makes the home like hell with consistent blaming and beating, father who is too far away to care. The adults of the other victim girl also suggest her family to give up the accusation for a huge settlement that will help secure the future for the girls. It’s the lack of proper care, or proper attention to the well-being of these young girls, whether it’s Wen or Mia, that Angels Wear White is thorny about. In the society where hymen reconstruction clinics surface, where young girls still need to behave accordingly and where all the eyes for the sexual scandal are focused into the culprit instead of the victims, these girls’ lives feel too fragile, too insignificant the hands of misguided adults. “I like it here. The weather is nice. Even a beggar can sleep well at night”, Mia confesses in one scene about this seaside town. Apart from its searing message about this lack of proper treatment for these girls, this film hits home whenever it explores the difficult issues our girls endure, and how they deal with them.

Vivian Qu approaches this hard-hitting subject with restrained approach. The characters don’t talk much, they hardly express their feeling out loud, as if all the emotions keep bottled up inside, and only through these eyes should you know how much they are hurt. We have two equally captivating performances from our young leads here, as they capture maturely all these emotions far beyond their age. The camera, likewise, only follow these twos’ steps, and the use of long take, plus the minimal use of score (only the prelude and prologue have scores) all add to the raw and realness of the story. The statue of Marilyn Monroe in her most iconic pose served as a titular white angel. Most of the time we can’t see her full body but parts of her legs that gradually get “dirtied” by various posters and advertisements and that tempting legs that invite us to look up. These girls’ stands are like that of the statue: a mere objectivity through the eyes of this insensitive society.