Published Nov 02, 2012Opening with a shot of young Honggui (Honggui Yao) sitting on her bed, manipulating her panties with menstrual blood running down her leg, Ji Huang's semiautobiographical realist drama Egg and Stone sets the stage for subject matter and tone, leaving the camera still, lingering on an impeccably composed image that speaks for itself. In such, we know from this opening moment that we're in for a deliberately constructed work of feminist symbology, whether being a work of nascent womanhood or internal struggle over forced gender roles.
Later, we learn that Honggui was left with her aunt and uncle after her parents moved to the city to find gainful employment. Alienated and ignored by her resentful extended family, she is often reduced to her gender, valued only for her looks and acknowledged only to be told Buddhist parables about menstruation as mode of sin.
Her only escape from this isolating environment, which represents the ongoing statement of gender relegation in modern China where a woman is only as valuable as the healthy baby boy she's able to conceive, is her limited socialization with a local boy whose gift of a stone-carved stamp she uses to make art out of her menstrual blood, demonstrating ambivalence and confusion about her role as a woman.
Eventually exploited for her ability to procreate by her aunt and uncle, this very stoic and assured tale is necessarily grim and severe. Some of the imagery used to further the feminist agenda, such as first person perspectives of splayed legs and folded paper being placed into Honggui's panties, are quite heavy-handed but not necessarily superfluous either, reminding us of the socially imposed sense of monstrosity that menstrual and birthing cycles force on the protagonist.
Though limited in potential audience by the amplified female focus and limited traditional narrative allowance, Egg and Stone does outline an issue astutely without resorting to maudlin modes of manipulation. And while doing so, it utilizes gorgeous photography and acutely thoughtful composition, adding formalist dimension to this feminine perspective.
Egg and Stone screens on Thursday, November 8th at 7:40pm at Innis Town Hall (Match Factory)