The wife of a man beaten by a local official struggles against the system to get an apology. [ The Story of Qiu Ju credits: Dir: Zhang Yimou/ Gong Li, Lei Lao Sheng, Liu Pei Qi/ 100 min/ Drama, Foreign Language/ China/ In Mandarin with English subtitles/ Law & Liberty, Resistance to Tyranny]
An apology might not seem like much to get or ask for as compensation for a beating, but in this case it has a broader significance. As The Story of Qiu Ju begins, a Chinese official in a remote village has brutally assaulted a man as punishment for violating the local building code (the victim built a storage shed without getting a building permit). Infuriated, the injured man’s wife demands that the official apologize. However, to do so would be to admit that there are limits to his authority, which in turn would mean a loss of “face” and power. So, the official refuses.
He has no idea with whom he is dealing. The wife is absolutely dogged in her determination to get justice. She goes to great lengths to appeal to ever higher authority in a one-woman revolution against the Chinese equivalent of City Hall. She appeals to the village level of authority, then the district level, then the city level. She is only a poor country woman, who must barter to travel to these governing bodies and to get help with the legal paperwork, but she is relentless.
Ironically, after she has struggled long and hard to obtain justice and is awaiting a verdict from the court, she and the local official are accidentally reconciled by his doing of an unrelated good deed. Unfortunately, it is only then that the bureaucratic wheels of the legal system finally move on her original complaint but with much more force than she had ever intended.
No doubt these events are supposed to be a lesson in the virtues of moderation, as the official and the wife were both determined to have their way and in the end neither is happy. But libertarians may also see it as a terrific example of the irrelevance and inefficiency of the machinery of government to the settling of disputes between people. Apparently legal reform is needed not only in the West but in China as well.
The Story of Qiu Ju is well acted throughout, and it has a compelling story. Especially satisfying is the character of the injured man’s wife, who is determined to fight for justice whatever the cost. Additionally, this film is an interesting window into the current Chinese world.