Xiaolu Guo: Once Upon a Time in China

Retrospective: She, A Chinese

  • once upon a time2

    © Xiaolu Guo Productions

Past Event

This event was on Saturday 25 May, 1.30 - 6pm

In a screening programme introduced by Xiaolu Guo, The Concrete Revolution (2004) charts the huge architectural transformation of Beijing, Once Upon A Time Proletarian (2009) tells the unseen stories of lives lived through huge social change, and UFO in Her Eyes (2011) offers a wry portrait of collective change in a sharp satirical register.

Part of Not Just Me but You Too: Cinemas of Sisterhood, April 2019 – March 2020.

This year-long season of films, entirely by women and gender non-binary filmmakers, covers artists’ and experimental film, documentary and essay film, alongside filmmaker appearances, readings, discussion and guest speakers. Expect programmes dedicated to particular makers, themed programmes with contemporary artists and celebrations of key feminist thinkers, all in dialogue with Pages Cheshire Street, a new independent bookshop dedicated to women and non-binary writers.



The Concrete Revolution

Once Upon a Time Proletarian


15.50 break



UFO in Her Eyes



About the programme

The Concrete Revolution
2004 / 62mins
Part objective documentary, part personal essay, on the surface this film charts the transformation of Beijing. In order to present a modern glossy face to the world, one where shiny new buildings and icons of western consumerism are rapidly built and pushed to the foreground, the Chinese Government prefers to hide in the background the hardship of the people constructing the new image, and that of the disappearing world of its culture-carrying elders.
Electing to focus beneath the facade, this intelligent and important work bravely exposes the unseen changes in values and the social cost being paid, especially those of the peasant construction workers of the new China. Told through the contrast of individual’s stories with elements of retrospective context, the film functions as a feminine poem on a macho subject using a clever mix of colour and black & white film, stills, snippets of media newsflash and even quotes and songs from Maoist China.

Once Upon a Time Proletarian
2010 / 73mins
A subjective anatomy of contemporary China in the post Marxist era. 12 chapters explore facets of Chinese social and political landscape. Stories of yearning, loss and dreams unfold: an old peasant who has lost his land, a millionaire chatting with his mate in a stock exchange office, a young migrant who came to the city to wash cars, a weapon factory worker who wishes Mao was still alive to save the country, a successful hotel owner who praises the government’s liberal economy policies, and young kids whose dream is to become famous western artists… Lead by metaphoric and comical children stories in between chapters, this film contemplates a complex society whose citizens are searching for new beliefs and identities after the country’s great revolutionary days, and demonstrates how the individual is conflicting with his time and history.

UFO in Her Eyes
2010 / 110mins
A Chinese peasant woman one day claims she has seen a UFO. From that day her world turns upside down. A Beijing Police officer arrives in the village to investigate the UFO sighting. Through his point of view, a collective portrait of the village and its tragic destiny unfolds. What kind of future will the villagers have? What will be China’s future? The film is a metaphoric political satire about post-Mao China.

About the retrospective: She, A Chinese

One of the most distinctive figures in world literature and cinema, the multi-award winning Chinese writer and film-maker Xiaolu Guo has, over the last 20 years, crafted a singular body of film work, covering short and artist’s film, documentary, essay and fiction features, and her films have premiered at Locarno, Sundance, Toronto and Venice, among many other festivals. Tracking her own experience living between a radically changed China and the West, Guo’s films explore marginalised lives in transit across a globalised world.

This first complete retrospective presents all her films, and Guo will be present at each screening, throughout May.

Read a career interview with Xiaolu Guo here.

Xialou Guo’s First and Second Manifestos on Cinema.


About Xiaolu Guo

Xiaolu Guo is a Chinese British filmmaker and novelist. A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy and the UK National Film and Television School, she has worked both in Europe and China in cinema and literature. She is one of the inaugural fellows of the Columbia Institute of Ideas and Imagination in Paris and a jury member for the Man Booker Prize 2019. Her feature films include She, a Chinese (Golden Leopard Award, Locarno Film Festival 2009), How Is Your Fish Today? (official selection, Sundance Film Festival 2006, Tiger Award Special Mention, Rotterdam International Film Festival, Grand Prix at the International Women’s Film Festival, France) and UFO in Her Eyes(2011, produced by renowned German filmmaker Fatih Akin and premiered at TIFF). Her documentary features include Once Upon A Time Proletarian(Venice Film Festival Official Selection and TIFF 2010); We Went to Wonderland (ND/NF MoMA & Rotterdam International Film Festival 2008); The Concrete Revolution (Grand Prix, International Human Rights Film Festival Paris, Cinema du Reel 2004); Late At Night: Voices of Ordinary Madness (BFI London Film Festival 2013) and Five Men and a Caravaggio(BFI London Film Festival 2018). She is also an award-winning writer with eight novels published by Penguin Random House in the UK, and in Germany.

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