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Illusions Lost in World of Film
Like many young women, Xu Wen feels embarrassed if she steps outdoors without being properly made up. But it is exactly when she is not made up that the conflicts inherent in youth spread across her 27-year-old face.

Xu graduated from the Department of Film Studies of Japan's Nagoya University last year. After returning to Beijing, she worked for just three months in a film company before resigning. Xu's mouth emits a torrent of words that spark before her face, accompanied by lively gestures. Her listeners are dumbstruck by the speed of the utterances, only to sigh at their quick disappearance. Xu's sensitivity and penetrating vision make her perfectly suited to working with film, even if at present her cherished dream lies in tatters beside the rest of her young memories.

"I need a way to express myself" Xu served as a class monitor at high school, and was a successful student. Her classmates would often turn to her for advice, but few would listen to her inner feelings and concerns as most thought she was strong and able to look after herself. She gradually got into the habit of keeping her true feelings to herself, and felt she no longer possessed the words to express her heart. "But I'm anxious to express myself," she grabbed at the air as if trying to catch something.

Souls burning to express their inner flames are destined to flirt with the arts. For Xu the art of film is quite separate from that of language. She has long been seduced by the broad dimensions and inclusive character of film.

Film studies proved to be a far cry from easy direction for Xu however. She was born into a typical scientist's family. Her grandfather graduated from Peking University and half of her family members are lecturers or assistant professors. Holding traditional concepts of family honor and ties, her parents wanted her to study science and stay at home. They didn't support her idea to study the arts; neither did they ant her to study in Japan.

When she was a little girl, Xu's grandmother always told her, "Everyone of us needs 500 years of Buddhist practice to become a person. It's not easy to have such a fortunate lot!" Clearly knowing that in mind, Xu cherishes every minute of her life, snatching every moment to gain all kinds of experience. "I knew studying abroad was full of hardship, but I had to go to get a feel for another kind of life!

Lunging into Film

Xu began to study at Nagoya University in October 1998, preparing for the entrance examinations of the graduate program. Before going to Japan, she graduated from the Japanese Department of Beijing Foreign Languages Institute and intended to read Japanese literature at Nagoya University. But she couldn't forget her dream of studying film. Once she found out that Professor Peter B. High in the Japanese Literature Department taught film studies, she went to ask him about her plan. "How's that possible?" said Professor High, "Your study background isn't related to film." The truth was that Xu hadn't picked up even basic film knowledge Chinese, let alone in Japanese. But she insisted on trying. At last Professor High made a compromise, "Give me a specific study plan. If that looks reasonable, I'll accept you into the program of Film Studies." The following two months were a nightmare. Xu studied in the library for at least nine hours everyday besides attending lectures. Her university library did not stock enough books relating to film, so she had to go to other universities. Night buses were half the price of day buses, so she often arrived at 6 am. With a cup of coffee at hand, she had to sit in a nearby McDonalds, waiting for two hours and not daring to fall asleep. Textbooks cost a fortune in Japan, so in the afternoons, she would hop onto another bus to a bookstore to buy second-hand books.

She only fell asleep once in the library. For three hours she slept on a desk. "When I woke up, I almost wanted to beat myself to death for the wasted time!" She made a joke of the incident, but a trace of bitterness appeared at the corner of her mouth, "Damn! Three hours! Three hours! My God!" Under great pressure from study and money problems she became terribly sick with bulimia in November. She knew her stomach was full, but her mind instructed her to eat and eat. She couldn't control herself. All she could do was force herself to throw up after eating. "I often bought a piece of cake in the evening and told myself to keep it for the next morning. But every time I ate during the evening before going to bed." After half a minute of silence, she lit a cigarette and smoked voraciously. Xu said she wanted to try and forget such a painful period in her life. Anyway, she turned in her first study plan to Professor High. He said it wasn't even written in fluent Japanese, but two months later, he finally accepted her onto the course, "I can see that you've made astonishingly rapid progress," he said. T years later, Xu became the first foreign master student to graduate from the Department of Film Studies of Nagoya University.

From Celebration of Youth to Funeral of Youth

People who meet Xu for the first time notice her natural exaggeration melts in each of her subtle gestures and expressions. The exaggeration is powerful enough to stab into the boredom of life and can be only found in young women like her. Maybe she knows that, so she especially cherishes her youth.

Before graduating from the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, she and three of her friends decided to hold an exhibition in memory of their four years in college. "Once you get an idea rolling, you will find friends around you thinking the same," Xu said excitedly. They designed exquisite wooden tables and chairs, and elegant lamps with poems written on their paper. With everything ready, they suddenly remembered they hadn't found a place to hold the exhibition. The cheapest rent of a small gallery was 3,000 yuan per day, which they could nowhere nearly afford. Sakai, the owner of a Japanese restaurant near her college lent a hand. He understood the students' desire to celebrate their memories of youth and decided to lend his restaurant to them. The exhibition successfully attracted their friends, schoolmates and passers-by for two days. Sakai didn't ask for any money. "You don't know how much I thank you!" said Xu to him, "I owe you for my whole life at that time." Xu believed she could fulfill her dreams if she tried hard enough. Now however she has lost all faith, "The biggest failure of education lies in encouraging kids to believe their wishes can come to truth if they dedicate enough time and effort!" she complained. Last September, the last month of her time studying abroad, Xu took the train from Nagoya to Osaka to see Cats, the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. When the musical finished, the heavens opened. Xu and her friends dashed to the station through the rain in their long dresses to get the last train home. She feels the scene happened a long time ago. "The feeling is as faraway as distant music!" At that time, she regarded its the memory of her time studying abroad. "I think it should be called the 'remembrance of my youth'," she said.

Waiting to Fulfill Her Film Dream

Generally speaking, Chinese students who study overseas have a choice of two promising future career paths if they come back after graduation. The first is to work for a prestigious company or institute; the second is to establish their own company. "I don't belong to either of them!" Xu laughed at herself. She only considered working in film industry when she came back to Beijing in late September last year.

She was assigned to take charge of an avant-garde film project in one of the biggest film producing companies in Beijing. After giving it her all, she handed in her resignation to the boss after three months. She couldn't bear the bureaucracy or politics in the company. Now she stays at home but often feels down. Every night she hangs around with friends, going to bars until two or three o'clock in the morning. Asked why she likes to go out at night, she said, "I need an escape route. Besides, think people are more real at night." Although there are a lot of young people like her who don't want to find a formal job, she can't ignore the pressure from society and her parents, "I couldn't cope if I didn't ." She knows she wants to get into the circle of independent directors and producers, or make a movie from private means. "I'm not confident enough about my choice, and I can't ignore other people's worries for me. That's the problem: she doesn't have enough courage. For most people, especially her family, working in film is not a stable job: "Maybe I shouldn't have studied film. However, I love it too much." She fell into silence. Numerous Chinese young people today are facing the same problem. Most of them usually keep silent, waiting for the struggles and contradictions to gradually die out together with their youthful passion. Then their real career in society kicks off.

(Beijing Today March 29, 2002)

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