She was born Qin Ren Mei but everyone called her Xiao Mei. She is a woman whose life was both uneventful and complex depending on who one talked to. No one knows what happened to her, she vanished without a trace one day, but the undeniable mark she left on those she encountered is palpable.
In Marwen Hwang’s haunting debut Xiao Mei, the memories of nine individuals are used to construct both a portrait of the of the woman and to try and explain her disappearance. Playing like a faux documentary, the viewer watches as each person, ranging from a prideful landlord to family members, recounts their experiences with Xiao Mei (Jao Cincin). Through their stories we get a kaleidoscope look at a woman whose life was marked by both moments of joy and addiction.
Giving each account its own subtle but unique visual style, the film effortlessly blurs the line between memory and reality. Similar to the photographer who shows two versions of the same wedding photo, one with Xiao Mei in the background and one without, Hwang constantly forces the viewer to question the nature of truth in terms of recollection. The missing woman is frequently shown hovering around, or directly interacting which each person as they tell their version of events. This interactive approach to flashbacks gives the film a ghost story aura without taking away from the mystery at its core.
The film also does a good job of making one question the reliability of each storyteller. Always keeping the audience guessing, Xiao Mei is a captivating examination of the impact of human connections.