Magazine article Screen International

'Angels Wear White': Venice Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Angels Wear White': Venice Review

Article excerpt

Vivian Qu’s tale of abuse and corruption in China’s ‘gold coast’ marks her out as a force to be reckoned with

Dir/scr: Vivian Qu. China, 2017, 107 mins.

For her second feature as director, Vivian Qu sets her script in Hainan island, “China’s gold coast”, where the giant ‘Forever Marilyn’ sculpture watches over the residents of the Warmness Hotel as they go about their business. Events which take place here one night will have far-reaching consequences in Qu’s shocking story of complicity and corruption, a Chinatown set in China. The director of Trap Street and producer of Berlinale-winning Black Coal, Thin Ice pulls no punches in her tentacled piece, and it leaves a livid mark.

This is a pitiless world in which to be weak

Strong reviews should lead Angels Wear White into further festival play after its Venice launch, where it could well win awards, and a wide arthouse reach. It’s an excoriating story told with gentle sympathy; a lashing tale about the abuse and marginalisation of women at the hands of a dark establishment in a sun-filled resort. Everybody is on the make here, and the chain of corruption crushes down on its weakest links. Sold internationally by Wild Bunch, Angels Wear White had not passed censorship in China prior to its Venice Competition berth, yet it’s a companion piece to A Touch of Sin, Jia Zhangke’s similar howl of protest, which did pass.

Whatever its domestic fate, Angels is a skilful combination of tense, dark drama with biting social commentary. Nothing here is entirely predictable once the motel’s paper-less cleaner and general dogsbody Mia (Wen Qi) agrees to swop shifts and man the reception desk one fateful evening. (China operates a system of licensing its population to live outside their places of birth.) It’s an almost a wordless, extended sequence: we’ve seen Mia on the beach in her drab clothes worshipping at the feet of Marilyn, so when she appears behind the restort’s counter in a fancy hot pink jacket, it all feels immediately out of place.

Soon, an older man arrives with two pre-pubescent girls in school uniforms, one wearing a blonde wig. He books two rooms; they order beer. Mia sees the man try to enter the girls’ room on the surveillance camera and uses her phone to record his actions. It quickly turns out he’s the local police commissioner, the godfather of one of the girls (Wen, played affectingly by newcomer Zhou Meijun), and “an animal”, according to her mother. …

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