Frame by Frame, a Macabre Tale – ‘SHe’ Review [MulanIFF 2019]

Mulan International Film Festival 2019

Film Title
SHe 女他
Premiere Type
Toronto Premiere
95 minutes
None - Stop Motion Animated Film
Director 导演:ZHOU Shengwei 周圣崴
Mulan International Film Festival 2019

When the world comes crashing down, will you run away?

Stop motion picture. Check. Vivid imagery. Check. Shoe anthropomorphism. Check.

ZHOU Shengwei’s debut feature SHe is a masterful piece of both art and political commentary. Created from over 58,000 photos of everyday objects, Zhou creates a story most horrifying, disturbing, yet wonderful in nature leaving you questioning the state of our world.

SHe follows the story of a female red high heel shoe. In their world, male shoes have control of the world and the final say in all things. The female shoes only exist to reproduce and have no right to work. Any new female baby shoes born are immediately transformed into a male shoe –through an awful process of being stripped of their identity by being painted black and forcibly tacked on with bolts and screws (the male working shoe). The red high heel observes the cruelty towards the female baby shoes and determines she wants better for her own daughter. She manages to save her daughter from the transformation through endangering herself by disguising as a male shoe in order to gain work. She soon realizes the difficulties of factory work. Being bullied and isolated at work, she has a difficult time making money yet her male counterparts barely work yet reap all the benefits. She eventually is found out but manages to overcome and overpower the male shoes to ultimately put them under her rule. Through her determination and fight, she manages to survive and raise her daughter into adulthood.

At first glance, SHe seems to be a movie of feminist power. Yet at a deeper level, it is a story about individualism. How one person overcomes the hardships of her reality to climb to the top of the food chain, ruling over all. It is a cyclical story where one’s triumph is another’s downfall. There is no sympathy for the collective, and no empathy for her own gender, only her goal of survival to live another day for her daughter so she can return to raise her up. Zhou throws in a twist ending, leaving the storyline open but realistic in its depiction of the world we live in.

The genius of this movie comes from Zhou’s artisty. SHe is a macabre piece of artwork filled with vivid and graphic imagery. Zhou managed to take every day pieces and transformed them into living creatures living in a dark world. Add on the strong symbolism through colour, SHe is a picture of the grotesque. Watching the movie is an uncomfortable experience; knowing that simple everyday items are representative of the inhumanity seen in the underbellies of the world we know. Something as simple as a red high heel holds so much meaning and represents a lot, it is not happenstance that Zhou chose it to represent the female. Red is a fierce colour and often represents danger when combined with a woman. It is no surprise then that the high heel will ultimately succeed to rise above all. Contrast the male shoe –represented by a black loafer. A plain working shoe, ever so common, it dominates the workplace and has become comfortable and complacent in the world they exist in. It is no wonder that the red high heel comes out triumphant.

What I love about the movie is that the seemingly abstract is rooted in imagery we are familiar with, or can understand because on some level, we see how the darker side of the world operates. One motif that underlines the movie is that of the colour green and growth. Plants are representative of growth, and flowers that of femininity and fertility. Zhou manages to take this a step further and uses this motif as a source of power for the red high heel. It is associated with her life and her will to fight on for her daughter. Green plants become a way to overtake the factory and leads to her eventual triumph, yet it is not a glorious victory, but one that allows her daughter’s life to carry on.

SHe is filled with so much rich imagery and depictions; it is an overwhelming film that will leave you questioning the world we live in. In its macabre scenes and pictures of the grotesque, Zhou’s debut film will leave you unsettled, but morbidly appreciative of his artistry. SHe is not for the faint of heart but will leave a lasting impression.

Did I mention this movie has no dialogue?