Ambitious Designs

— A review by Lin Jingying —

“Where is your design inspiration coming from? Who is your idol? ”
“Chacha Chanel.”
“It’s Coco Chanel.”
“Yes, her.”

fairy1 This documentary, directed by Guo Rongfei records the story of Wang Shouying, who even though she is from a poor family in a remote rural area of China, believes that she is the next great French catwalk design star. She spends all her spare time designing and making dresses displaying a remarkable creativity with only the most basic of materials available to her, sacks, sticks, leaves… even dead fish.

She goes under the name of “Fairy”. In our internet age, there are so many celebrities active on social media and “Fairy Wang” is now one of them, given fame and recognition. Guo seems to have become friends and took part in Fairy’s first fashion show in her home village of Taian and also, at the end of the film, we see her going to an exhibition of her works in Shanghai. In the first half of the film – at her village – Fairy is lively, at home and bubbly but the second half shows here sad and slightly isolated, reflecting the director’s interpretation of Fairy’s dreams and the reality. She seems to be interested in disclosing the price that Fairy has had, and may still have to pay.

This film is Guo’s graduation work and has already won her a student academy award, the best short documentary awards from the Melbourne International Film Festival and from the Asian American Film Festival. After the screenings, Guo became the target for reporters to interview and Fairy once again returned to the public’s attention.

It is certainly a good debut. At only 29 minutes, the director has edited it well to convey the story and still manage to tell a bigger narrative, conveying the humour and sadness. The film reflects the important issue of modern China by focusing on this ambitious youngster from China’s villages. Some people might argue that the director gave too much of her own subjective emotion to her film and I, for one, disagree with the way that Fairy’s fate is portrayed.

fairy2I think that Fairy knows what she wants and is prepared to go through this process. No matter what public expose – and ridicule – brings to Fairy, she has demonstrated that she can take it on the way to realizing her goals as a “new woman” in China. It is an admirable quality lacking in so many.

Does the director “use” Fairy? I think it is a problem worth discussing. The director was not just observing, but was involved in the film as interpreter, model and co-helper, albeit these roles were sprung by surprise during filming.

The director could be considered to be a representative of the elite while Fairy is clearly a lower class figure but I think that it is a relationship of inter-dependence and mutual exploitation in some ways. Some reviewers have suggested that the director benefited more from this documentary but actually Fairy seems to have gained a lot. The director seems to be sympathetic towards Fairy, almost as a friend, and critical of those who really want to use Fairy’s fame for their own purposes. It is definitely something to think about.

As Fairy says: “someone once told me that fashion is not for the poor, fashion is for the rich.” The conflict between the status of Fairy and the fashion circle dominated by the rich raises her to people’s attention. I think no-one can decide whether her works are high fashion or not (even though the fashion industry experts seemed convinced that it was the work of a high-end designer when they had to guess) but I would consider them as artworks. It seems as if fashion is formed by the flattery of high society groups. According to Fairy, it is too difficult to survive in this circle as it is a totally different environment from what she growing up. This phenomenon is just a miniature of China’s society and nobody knows how many persons like Fairy are suffering this kind of frustration.

fairy3Additionally, Fairy’s hometown, the story of her small village, also reflects problems of rural areas of China. The villagers were skeptical of Fairy’s behaviors ever since her childhood. The elders of the village community wanted to implant feudal and square-toed thoughts into future generations; however, Fairy jumped out of the box, bravely, against their will. In a sense, maybe this kind of rebellious attitude was necessary to help Fairy to want to achieve. Maybe her self-development against the odds if how she got to where she is today.

Fairy Tales presents a story of a rural designer’s dream and the slightly less fairy-tale reality. Behind it, there is still a group of people from rural areas trying to find their places in the city. The city is still waiting.