Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but few women have been as determined to exact retribution as the heroine of this film. Brilliantly plotted and formally playful, the latest from Chinese director Feng Xiaogang follows its spurned protagonist's decade-long campaign to get a divorce on her own particular terms.
The story of provincial café proprietor Li Xuelian begins as a matter of real estate. In order to acquire the apartment they desire, Xuelian and her truck-driver husband conspire to get a "fake" divorce. Once the divorce goes through, however, Xuelian is shocked to discover that her husband has moved into the apartment with another woman. Thus begins Xuelian's mission to have her extant divorce annulled so she can remarry her husband and then divorce him "for real." It is a question of principle — which is lost on the local magistrate. Xuelian travels to Beijing to take her case to a higher court, but there too she is dismissed. Years pass, and Xuelian continues to sue the state for failing to recognize her demands. She accosts justices in the streets, hurls herself in front of their cars, and even seeks accomplices to help her kill them all.
I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY is a cleverly comic commentary on Chinese bureaucracy and male fear of single-minded women. Xuelian may not be wealthy or educated, but nothing can stop her from pursuing what she believes she is owed.
Born in Beijing in the 1950s, Feng Xiaogang emerged as one of Asia's most commercially successful directors, with his searing black comedies that mapped the lives of ordinary people in a rapidly changing China. His films became more ambitious—and were at the forefront of pushing the boundaries of China cinema—in the 2000s, with A WORLD WITHOUT THIEVES (2004) THE BANQUET (2006), ASSEMBLY (2007), IF YOU ARE THE ONE (2008) and AFTERSHOCK (2010). His films A SIGH (2000) and BACK TO 1942 (2012) won Best Film prizes at the Cairo and Beijing International Film Festivals, respectively. Xiaogang has also won Best Director three times at China's prestigious Hundred Flowers Awards. In 2016, he once again reinvents genre forms with his darkly comic I AM NOT MADAME BOVARY.