TimeOut London wrote:
A lyrical, elegiac tale about the generation of students banished to remote agricultural regions of China during the Cultural Revolution. 17-year-old Li Chun, a shy, even repressed Han girl from Beijing, is sent to work in a small village in the Dai countryside, down near Laos. At first disdainful of the natives’ rural superstitions and poverty, only slowly does she overcome her outsider status and learn the value of the Dais’ appreciation of beauty, nature and human warmth. An unsentimental celebration of tradition, exotic landscape and cultural independence, Zhang’s film is both a loving portrait of Dai life and a sensitive, partly autobiographical study of one girl’s hesitant awakening to sensuality. Infused with a discreet, gentle eroticism and a final, touching sense of loss, it charms through its narrative simplicity and visual elegance.
Encyclopedia of Contemporary Chinese Culture
Sacrificed Youth is a feature film by director Zhang Nuanxin, based on a novella by Zhang Manling. During the Cultural Revolution, seventeen-year-old Li Chun, daughter of urban intellectuals, is sent to a mountainous village in a Tai (Dai) minority region in Yunnan. Assigned to a family that includes ‘Dadie’ (Father), ‘Yiya’ (Grandmother) and ‘Dage’ (Elder Brother), Li joins a brigade of women who chop bamboo. Envious of the Tai uninhibitedness and sensuality, Li eventually discards her Han clothing and demeanor to ‘go native’. Trouble arises when she befriends a male Chinese intellectual, named Ren Jia, and rejects the love of her ‘Dage’. To avoid the ensuing hostilities, Li leaves the village. Eventually permitted to return to the city, she comes back to the village upon learning of floods that have killed both her Tai family and her Chinese friend.
Sacrificed Youth is filmed in an intimate documentary style, using non-professional actors and a first-person voice-over narrative. It recounts Li’s thoughts on two planes. The first contrasts her Han ‘civilized’ but repressed self with the idealized primal and unfettered Tai ‘other’. Although charmed by the youthful sensuality of Dai culture, Li is also aware of its shortcomings—poverty, ignorance, seasons passed in back-breaking labour, in contrast to Han culture that privileges age and wisdom.
The second relates Li’s past self—bonded with a nurturing environment—to a self-reliant but alienated present/future self. It is a tribute to a lost state of grace, a condition once known but no longer attainable, in which the pre-sexual individual was content within the warm maternal embrace.