Qu’s second feature is a decent follow-up to ‘Trap Street’ in what is a bleak sociopolitical indictment of the treatment of women in modern society.
Dir. Vivian Qu
2017 | China | Drama | 107 mins | 1.85: 1 | Mandarin
PG13 (passed clean) for some mature themes
Cast: Vicky Chen, Zhou Meijun, Shi Ke
Plot: In a small seaside town, two schoolgirls are sexually assaulted by a middle-aged man in a motel. Mia, a teenager who was working on reception that night, is the only witness. For fear of losing her job, she chooses to keep silence.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice). Won 1 Golden Horse – Best Director. Nom. for 2 Golden Horses – Best Feature Film, Best Leading Actress
International Sales: Wild Bunch
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed on screener)
Winning Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards, Vivian Qu’s second feature, Angels Wear White, is a decent follow-up to Trap Street (2013), which also premiered at the Venice Film Festival.
Starring breakout star Vicky Chen as Mia, a teenage receptionist at a seaside motel who becomes an indirect witness to an alleged rape of two schoolgirls by a man in a position of power. She stays quiet, such is her personality and circumstance (she is already flouting the law for not possessing an identity card having ran away from home a few years ago).
As the narrative progresses, Mia becomes morally stuck between telling the truth for money (after a female lawyer befriends her) or to find a way out of what seems like a lonely, unappreciated existence. Chen’s performance doesn’t require a lot of dialogue, and this suits her character as Mia lives day-to-day independently, though that may not suggest a sense of agency.
Perhaps this is where Qu’s film is most interesting—how one girl tries to find personal agency amid a patriarchal society marked by male authority, and even, male corruption. Chen’s Golden Horse nomination for Best Leading Actress here is well-deserved; she won in the same year for Best Supporting Actress in a far more talked-about film, The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful (2017).
Official submission of China to the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 91st Academy Awards in 2019.
Angels Wear White is very much a sociopolitical indictment of the treatment of women in modern society. As such, one might call it a feminist work, though it is not necessarily an empowering film for women. In fact, for much of Qu’s film, the female characters are often under duress as caused by their male counterparts.
Therefore, it might have been a strong touch of irony when one of the film’s key visual motifs centers on a gigantic-sized Marilyn Monroe in her infamous ‘Seven-Year Itch’ pose. Her statue stands freely on the beach, but her lower limbs have been defaced by casual vandalism (one could read this as the esteemed Lady being shackled by the nonchalance of society).
Mia probably sees her as a role model, someone literally to look up to. Qu returns to this Monroe figure in the epilogue in what could be the film’s most exquisite moment filled with symbolism.
Through a story about navigating truths and lies that also masquerades as a coming-of-age picture, Angels Wear White mostly works and should interest viewers looking for a more grounded parable.