Tuya's Marriage is a clever and witty tale of a practical woman searching for a reliable man in a remote part of China in the throes of growing pains. Director and co-writer Wang Quan'an reminds us in his third feature that this quest is as thankless in Inner Mongolia as it is anywhere else. Funny, tender, and vividly shot, this delightful comedy is far more satisfying as story and cinema than other features recently shot in Mongolia. It may still struggle to find an audience, even in the western arthouse circuit, although lead Yu Nan should ensure solid box office in China.
Tuya (Yu Nan), hardworking and hardheaded, is a Mongolian desert herder who refuses to be settled in a town in accordance with the new industrialisation policy. With two kids, a disabled husband and 100 sheep, she becomes ill and is forced to find a provider to marry.
The catch: the new husband care for her current one, Bater who has agreed to divorce her and enter a nursing home, where the wealthy and politically-connected receive good care and ordinary citizens fend for themselves.
The parade of suitors begins - defying the conventional wisdom of China as a place where women are in over-supply - and things soon become a comedy of errors. There's Senge, a handsome accident-prone herder who always complains about his wife; there's another shy man who arrives with an entourage; and there's Baolier (Peng Hongxiang), a Mercedes-driving former classmate who's become rich from desert oil.
Tuya finally decides on the wealthy Baolier, but when a disconsolate Bater slits his writs, and the family needs money save his life, Baolier's gallantry dries up.
Tuya wears the trousers in this quirky desert romantic comedy set against China's quixotic campaign to wring profits out of the hardscrabble terrain. Yu Nan plays the role in a deadpan manner, drawing water, cooking, and tending her herd on a camel while the men fight among themselves.
Senge, played by a herder and equestrian of the same name (a non-professional), brings a charming haplessness to his role. Bater, another non-professional, epitomises the resignation of man forced to give up his traditional way of life.
Photography captures the arid Mongolian desert ringed by mountains, and the spartan interiors where holdouts like Tuya and her brood live.
Sentimentality and sanctimony about traditional ways are absent; there's plenty of ethnography and sociology, but the age-old quest for Mr. Right and the witty dialogue carry you through.
Xi'an Motion Picture Company Ltd.