One may say Ryuji Otsuka and Huang Ji’s ‘Stonewalling’ has way too many things to say, as the film approaches themes like female bodies, the modernization of China, eugenics and unwanted pregnancy during its 147 minutes of runtime, but what the couple of directors achieved here is a masterful accomplishment on realism in a modern-day metropolitan China.
Lynn is a twenty-years-old flight attendant student who discovers an unwanted pregnancy while trying to sell her eggs. She then tries to communicate with her boyfriend about it, but he is not open, so with her back against the wall, Lynn travels to her parents’ house to get an abortion. When Lynn finds out that her mother is being accused of malpractice while also being charged with compensations by a woman who lost her baby at her clinic, she decides to keep the baby so she can give it to adoption to pay her mom’s debts. She starts negotiating with the woman’s alleged cousin, but it’s noticeable that she is navigating suspicious waters. He mediates the communication between the two families and we never learn who that woman really is.
There’s no such thing as dramatization in ‘Stonewalling’. Otsuka and Huang show, in the most natural way, how women in China are often explored and how much it has become an ordinary thing for most of them. The eggs market is extremely eugenicist, as the donors are heavily interviewed about their mental and physical health – while some of them are put into constant watch so they can eat the right food and sleep at the right time. In a place where the “Two-Children Policy” is more present than ever, the egg business becomes a real hustle. It’s now a cultural thing and a genuine way to get money in modern-day China. The film has several subplots of how Lynn and her mother both have side-jobs to get a better income, but what makes Otsuka and Huang’s vision so sharp and fitting is how timely their approach to these jobs really are. MLM, gray markets and freelance jobs are part of our everyday lives, whether we are closely in touch with that or not, and they understand that without any kind of judgment. The film, which was made based on real interviews with college women about their life experiences, finds itself in its most ponderous moments when it simply decides to let the rhythm of the story flow in its own inherent way.
The 147 minutes of runtime can feel a bit too much sometimes, and while many can feel turned off by its introspective and thoughtful nature, there’s no denial that it’s brilliantly built by two people who are most certainly self-assured about their control of narrative. The contemplative direction lets the viewer create their own observations about the story, without implying or suggesting any easy answers. What’s fascinating about Otsuka and Huang’s work is how relatable and authentic the whole story really is. This could genuinely happen to someone’s mom or sister, and while the circumstances may be different, that’s what makes Stonewalling so compelling. It’s an effective approach that can come across as cold or unsympathetic, but it’s extremely necessary to make the whole story work. Without this kind of approach, some crucial scenes wouldn’t have the same kind of impact. One of them being when Lynn finds herself in the most vulnerable and existential moment of her pregnancy, wondering if the whole situation would have an affect on that child’s life. She regrets her decision and wishes she could go back in time, so that child wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of her actions. It’s the moment where we realize how the whole situation is worse than Otsuka and Huang are letting us see. Everything culminates in a haunting and meaningful final sequence that will surely linger for a couple of days after you watch it.
The portrait of society shown in ‘Stonewalling’ might not be one the most positive or hopeful out there, but it helps to exhibit how much impact modern culture may have in our lives, and while it doesn’t necessarily takes a dig at the Tik Tok generation, there’s a little commentary about alienation and the false sense of security and independence that social media helps to perpetuate nowadays.