Sixteen-year-old Peipei (Huang Yao) lives in Shenzhen, in mainland China, and crosses the border into Hong Kong every day for school. Which makes her an ideal smuggler’s mule: all but invisible, and if someone does look at her, they see nothing more than an innocent little girl in a cute uniform. And it turns out that sneaking iPhones past the customs cops for a local gang is a great job for a poor teen desperate to save up some money to take a fancy trip with a wealthy friend.
Alas that this first feature from writer-director Bai Xue is more intent on dazzling us visually than in developing a character we can get onboard with or a scenario that’s in any way engaging. Peipei is a nonentity, a metaphor for all sorts of divides — rich and poor, child and adult, as well as the obvious one of the political border — rather than a girl who feels like she’s living her own life and making her own decisions, or even pushing back against those who might push her around. Bai deploys cheats like the occasional and seemingly random freeze-frame to try to drum up an emotion (surprise? anxiety?), but it’s more tricksy than evocative.
This is a flat, uninvolving film in which we never really understand the chances Peipei is taking or what she stands to lose... or win. She feels like a bystander in her own story, and not in any way that’s illuminating about a young woman’s options, or lack thereof.
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