Qiao is a miner’s daughter from Shanxi, northern China (played, in a riveting performance, by Zhao Tao, director Jia Zhangke’s wife and muse). A gangster’s moll, she holds court among the men in the back room of a mahjong parlour, spending five years in prison after taking the fall for boyfriend Bin (Liao Fan). Released in 2006, she reconnects with Bin hoping to resume their life together yet comes to the painful realisation that nothing stays the same and there is no going back. Set around the cusp of the Millennium, as China undergoes social, political, economic and ecological transformation, the film asks how an old model of living can survive, suggesting that the jianghu, or outlaw, spirit might be the thing that persists.
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