Director Wei Zhang enters a new territory with “The Rib” as for the first time, a big budget Chinese feature film tackles the topic of transgender.
The movie is about Huanyu, a young man who is troubled with his male identity and wants to undergo a surgical sex change. But, it is not up to his own will to apply for the surgery. In China, the parents have to give their consent, even documenting the signing of the approval on video tape. Since Huanyu’s mother passed away, only his father, a strictly religious Christian, must give his signature.
Therefore the law forces Huanya to confess his urge to the outside world and his Christian shaped social sphere is shocked. With his father leading the way, who tries to consult doctors, priests and even prostitutes to change his son’s decision, the community does not support Huanya’s long-awaited operation. On the other side are Huanya’s transgender friends, role models with pride and courage. For example, Liu, who already made the sex change and is openly fighting for acceptance. But the movie shows that even strong personalities like him fold under the marginalization.
As the movies starts out with Huanya’s inner conflict and coming-out, the narration focuses more and more on his father. He turns out to be the real protagonist of “The Rib”. Witnessing Liu’s deadly fate, he starts to worry about the psychological implication of his son’s isolation.
Zhang Wei examines many different aspects of the transgender theme. Religious, psychological, social and also legal implications play a major role. “The Rib” is a very brave statement, tackling the equality of humans by portaying the harsh treatment of a hushed up segment of society.
On a visual level, the grey imagery mirrors the sadness of Huanya. Only at the end of the movie, the color of the female attire is highlighted. This points out to a superficial treatment of attributes, that play an important role in the liberation of Huanya. From make-up, clothes, and magazines through to openly behave in a female way, “The Rib” emphasises the usage of these things. They collude with settings and cinematography, placing the transgender community in dark alleys, behind closed doors and dark places. In contrast to that, the plot begins with a scene of Xie, Huanya’s roommate, and his girlfriend having sex in front of a huge glass facade. In a sublime juxtaposition, “The Rib” compares the acceptance of heterosexuality to the cover-up of homosexuality.
This film may be the first outcry of the beginning of social recognition. Just like in his other divisive movie, “Factory Boss” (2014), Zhang Wei presents a passionate and positive film with outstanding actors and a classic melodramatic score. By choosing Huanya’s father as a figure of identification, we are able to follow his path of gradual comprehension and at the same time see the conflict between the coming-out of his son and his deep religious views.