Directed by Beidi Wang
At the dawn of Mid-Autumn Day, when secluded immigrant Wu Sui is urged to remove her birth control ring implanted twenty years ago under China’s One Child Policy, she decides to keep the emergency surgery a secret, but reuniting with her family forces her to reckon with her wounded past. Starring Mardy Ma (CHANG CAN DUNK).
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Originally from Beijing, China, Beidi grew up as a single child in the hub of theatre and television. She was a child news reporter in CCTV-14, a Chinese national broadcast, and a child actor starring in sitcoms on national television.
Beidi studied Journalism at University of Oregon and graduated from University of Southern California’s MFA program in 2021, specializing in directing/producing. Her works were sponsored by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Film Independent and KCET, which have been screened and awarded at Asian Film Festival, FILMETS Badalona Film Festival, Independent Shorts Award, Nowness Asia, etc. Beidi is interested in making modernist films discovering underrepresented East Asian female stories. She believes in any innovative cinematic experience that will rejuvenate movie-making to a new era.
This story is inspired by true events from my own life. Due to the international customs’ shutdown between China and the U.S, my parents and I had quarantined in three different countries in 2020. The family diaspora has prolonged for decades did not make anything new. During the pandemic, my mother had the surgery to remove the birth control ring, which was inserted in her uterus since the One Child Policy in the 90s China; however, she hiding the surgery from me and my father caused a commotion in me. Her perfectly upright and stoical bearing shuttered my heart, and distanced her from her closest loved ones.
It started by a rare online group chat with three of us together. My mom and dad had been fighting for a while because of the long-term separation. It was a tense conversation with me caught in between them. On the road, Mom said she had to hang up. Dad asked her where she was going. After an odd long pause, she said it was her own business. My mother can barely keep secrets, but for the first time she excluded her agenda from me and my father, in a rare sense of dismissal. A few days afterward, she told me she went for the surgery to take out the ring, and she had been living with menopause for a year, as if telling me that was the most trivial thing in her life. Her insensitiveness shook me. I started to imagine what it would be like, to put an end on a woman’s fertility on her own; I started to imagine the unspoken parts – over the years she has raised me, the only child, and the whole family, which seemed to be all she has.
The grumpiness and hot temper as a typical Asian mother make her hard to approach. She could start a fight with every irrelevant person she came across, a passenger on the subway or a restaurant server. I never asked why because I thought that’s how moms were, unreasonably angry and hard-shelled. I was annoyed by her desensitization. I wanted her to tell me all her soul rusted carrying that grievance, how the device deprives her of being a woman, to make her feel scraped, hurt in her spine, gave her physical pain. But again, she won’t let her guard down in front of me.
When I thought it was me overestimating the whole issue, I started to look online for traces of evidence. From 1980 to 2014, according to official statistics, 324 million Chinese women were fitted with birth control rings. Unlike most of the contraceptive devices as today’s IUD, birth controls rings prevailing at the time were made of stainless steel, which were designed to inhibit fertilization for a lifetime. Many tragic cases unveil– inflammations, physical rejection reactions, uterine perforations, permanent mental and physical traumas. With that added context, my mother started to tell me more stories, about women around her who had been through the similar journey but with more severe results. It is surely not uncommon, and I am more assured this story has to be told in urgency.
Nevertheless, my question of what makes my mother today is still unsolved. Why does she always seem so insurmountable? She was born working class and not any less privileged than most of the Chinese women at her age. Why is she so adamant to admit the pain? My ignorance drove me too far away from understanding, so I made the decision to play the character of the daughter, Laura, in the film. In practicing this experiment, I would like to know how the director acting in one’s personal story would make a difference. To stay the closest to my experience with my mother may demystify my confusions and indignation to the whole subject matter.
Forging ahead with this bold idea, we captured the film with a great amount of sincerest moments. I granted the leading actress Mardy Ma (Chang Can Dunk/Only the Moon Stands Still), playing the mother, a lot of opportunities to improvise in a natural setup of the scenes. She would talk to my mother over the phone to exchange thoughts, and I would share memories with her restoring the dynamics between my mom and I. The cinematographer Melanie Grams molded the picture in a naturalistic non-invasive way. In the surgery scene where Wu Sui laid on the bed with her legs opened, the whole crew burst into tears. With the crew composed by 90 percent Asian female filmmakers, the nostalgic atmosphere transcended the story itself, because in the end it all reminded us of our own mothers.
Embedded with a journalistic spirit and some experimental thoughts, we made the film with delicacy and truthfulness. The social phenomenon has been very prevalent in my generation, with 15 million only-child families, where the absent fathers work far away and children leave home after 18. A solitary mother living on her own is a normalcy taken for granted. These Chinese women who abided by the One Child Policy had no choice but to swallow the pain. They can’t see the mandate to insert an unwanted device in their bodies as wrong or inhumane, because there were no actions to take. When they have to grapple with the past to take out the ring, they only think of it as their own embarrassment, a hidden public shame.
What makes my mother who she is today won’t change for a singular event. She and many others shushed their own discomforts in order to give and care. I cannot change that. At the very least, in my version of the story, in the eve of a Mid-Autumn Day, when the moon has waxed and waned and finally come full circle, when families should rejoin after distant travels, Wu Sui says that she can “let it go.” But I can’t.