The sexual assault of two 12-year-old girls sets off a harrowing chain of events in the film Angels Wear White (2017). Despite the premise, there is nothing lurid or sensationalistic in Chinese film-maker Vivian Qu's second directorial feature.
Speaking in Mandarin over the telephone, she tells The Straits Times that the film started from stories she had heard over the years of youth being violated or perpetrating crimes.
"It seems we don't care enough about the young and this worries me. We say that the next generation is our future and we should be helping and protecting them. The impact of not doing so might be very severe in time to come."
In the film, contemporary society is fraught with dangers and temptations for the young, given the corrupting force of money.
Qu says: "When everything is up for sale, how can a young girl find the right answer for herself and move forward? This has all gotten a lot more complicated."
She was calling from London, where the film was being screened at the BFI London Film Festival.
Angels Wear White has been nominated for three Golden Horse Awards - Best Feature Film, Best Director and Best Leading Actress for Vicky Chen. Chen plays Mia, an underage illegal worker at a motel where the assault took place.
BOOK IT / SINGAPORE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
WHERE: Marina Bay Sands, Shaw Theatres Lido, National Museum of Singapore, National Gallery Singapore, The Arts House and Filmgarde Bugis+
WHEN: Nov 23 to Dec 3
ADMISSION: $25 for opening film, $15 for special presentation films and $12 for other films. Discounts and concessions available. Refundable registration fee of $5 for masterclasses, In Conversation events and talks. Ticket sales start today via Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg). Tickets for the opening film, Angels Wear White, and special presentation films, The Song Of Scorpions and Oh Lucy!, are also available through marinabaysands.com/ticketing and at the Marina Bay Sands Mastercard Theatres box office
The film will open the 28th Singapore International Film Festival (SGIFF) on Nov 23 at Marina Bay Sands.
The line-up of films and personalities in attendance includes Anup Singh's Hindi drama The Song Of Scorpions (2017); Hong Kong drama The White Girl (2017) by Jenny Suen and Christopher Doyle; American-Japanese comedy drama Oh! Lucy (2017) by Atsuko Hirayanagi; Japanese actor Koji Yakusho (Shall We Dance?, 1996), who will be receiving the Cinema Legend Award; and feted Indonesian film-maker Garin Nugroho for the Honorary Award.
SGIFF executive director Yuni Hadi says Angels Wear White tells a "hard-hitting story of the society's marginalised through the camera lens and brings to the fore a rare female perspective towards the state of oppression".
Qu notes that there are seven female characters in her film, including a giant statue of American screen legend Marilyn Monroe.
Though they are at different stages of life and have different attitudes towards it, she is essentially writing about women.
But it is not a reductive portrayal along the lines of "men are bad and women are to be pitied".
Qu says: "We are already in the 21st century and yet the value of women is something that has not been really thought about."
When it comes to film-making, though, it seems that she would rather not be defined by her gender. She points out that the challenges she has faced are those common to arthouse directors, from raising funds to the film shoot.
The biggest hurdle is personal.
"Everything else are external difficulties to be overcome, but those are not really that challenging, the biggest challenge is to make your next film better."