Xiaoxiang, a 55-year-old machine operator, lives in a rural Chinese area with her idling bachelor son. There, she meets a man who makes a living by arranging “Zaku”, a local Death Ceremony. Although their hearts inch closer together, nothing can change the fate of Xiaoxiang’s caged life.
The film’s title Chang’E (常娥, /cháng’é/) is adapted from an ancient Chinese myth about the goddess Chang’e (嫦娥), whose story is known as “Chang’e Flying to the Moon.” “E” (娥) means “a fine woman” in Chinese. Our Chang’E in the film is a woman whose surname is Chang (常) — a different character from the original — and a woman who’s from my hometown of Changzhou (常州).
When our screenwriter Zoey joined the team, she brought some feminist insights to the story, and incorporated some surrealist elements as well as more references to the ancient myth. We tried to integrate the myth through certain images, including the white rabbit, the Zaku man under a tree, and the embroidered shoes Xiaoxiang dreams of. But Chang Xiaoxiang isn’t the goddess Chang’E frommyth; her life is heavy and inescapable.Furthermore, we didn’t want her to be a fairy who is gazed upon by all; we wanted her to be active.
Xiaoxiang Wang, the inspiration for our character, is a real 55-year-old machine operator and countrywoman in my hometown. I pass her house every time I head to my grandma’s. Xiaoxiang’s husband has been working somewhere away from home for a long time while she and her old bachelor son carry on their lives under the same roof. She has a nasty mouth, and she is always hustling about.
As I filmed her for research, I discovered that there was a jaded and burnt-out soul behind her dissatisfaction with life. When she works in the factory, she steps down on the machine over and over again, like an alienated tool. After work, she lies flat on the cold couch, blandly playing with her phone. But now and then, she momentarily glows up and her true nature is resurrected from theher zombie-like exterior inflicted on her by day-to-day life. From Xiaoxiang, I discovered a common ground all modern human beings share: beyond loneliness, there is still a more universally valued eagerness for love and affection. Xiaoxiang just couldn’t find it in her life.
That’s why I constructed a story around it. Based on the real conditions of Xiaoxiang’s life, Chang’E does not only display the poignant vapidity of her exhausting life, but also the beautiful and radiating moments within it. By revealing the transience of those moments, I intend to express the tragic tenor of life and the social concerns of those who live it.
The short title of this auteur, documentary-like film has rich meanings for its narrative and aesthetics. The inspiration for the main character, Xiaoxiang Wong, is a real 55-year-old machine operator and countrywoman from the director’s hometown. The film portrays this working-class woman’s real, cage-like life and her fantasy of an intimate relationship, conveying the universal desire for a love that can transcend loneliness. But the film’s title also invokes the mythical image of the ancient goddess Chang’e, who finally slipped the surly bonds of the earth and flew to the moon, adding a sense of lightness to its oppressive atmosphere.
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