Guo Xiaolu is bold and unflappable. Zou Hong / China Daily
>Guo Xiaolu, one of China`s few women filmmakers, believes many people aren`t used to women speaking their minds.
"They believe women should be muzzled or tamed," she says.
"If you aren`t, you`re considered difficult. And if you have an opinion, you`re considered bad-tempered."
Guo, whose works are gaining international attention as they snap up awards, is bold, unflappable and uncompromising.
She`s open-minded in accepting the praise of her films and novels, which also breaks the stereotype of the shy woman.
Guo has been living in London and Berlin for years.
An ongoing comprehensive retrospective of her movies since 2003, plus her latest film, UFO In Her Eyes, which runs from May 20-June 10 at Ullens Center For Contemporary Art (UCCA), offers a glimpse of a pioneer among Chinese women.
It`s the first time the 40-year-old will screen her films in Beijing. And she`s curious about the feedback from audiences.
"Action movies have an incredible insurance policy - you know many people will see them," she says.
"If you`re drawn to subjects like that, my films might not compel you."
How, then, has she succeeded?
The 10 movies she`s made since 2004 explore themes of alienation, memory, personal journeys and visions of China`s past and future in a global environment.
They have won awards at such international film festivals as the Locarno International Film Festival, Venice Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival.
Because Guo comes from a rural village, she tells stories about China caught up in the turmoil of globalization.
Guo also has the distinct advantage of being a writer. She has been a novelist, who has published seven novels in Chinese and English since 1999.
"As a director, you`re not dependent on people sending you scripts," she says.
>"As a writer, you don`t need to worry about your script being changed or even rewritten by the director."
Guo uses her novels as her film`s scripts.
But above all, she`s tough. Small, edgy and intense, she is the sort of person who compels an interviewer to tread cautiously.
Her hometown and childhood may explain why she is who she is.
Guo grew up in a remote fishing village in Zhejiang province. She recalls elderly, white-haired farmers carrying water buckets up and down hills, farmers plowing fields in droughts, and the bitterness and dark emotions that pervaded the community.
"The oldest were the most fascinating because they had lived through it all," she says.
"They had witnessed the radical changes of China`s history and experienced firsthand the chaos of the last half-century."
Rural life is the root of her mythology, fantasies and folklore. That might explain why her films often show elderly people against rural backdrops.
In Guo`s village, the elderly couldn`t cope with the new society, while the youth were bored and just wanted to leave.
"I remember this, because I felt it, too - the troubled feeling experienced under the scorching sun in abandoned rice paddies, where there was no other choice in life," she says.
She started writing poetry at 13. Her first poem, Autumn, is about a young girl`s confusion while growing up and was published in a national magazine.
She got 17 yuan ($2.70) for the first poem. It was a huge amount for the young girl, and she realized she could earn money writing.
Guo explains her journey from "farmer to artist" began when she enrolled in the Beijing Film Academy at age 18.
"I was angry. I was intellectual. I was full of stories," she says.
But she hated dealing with producers.
"I spent hours in restaurants with producers discussing my ideas and accomplishing nothing," she says.
So, she returned to writing.
Guo says her English novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers, which was nominated for the 2007 Orange Prize for Fiction, owes much to the diaries she kept in London.
Her film She, A Chinese, which won the Golden Leopard at the 2009 Locarno International Film Festival, also borrows from her journey as a young woman from the village to the city, from the East to the West, and of love and desire.
"I withdraw from the crowds and enjoy the loneliness brought by writing without compromise or disturbance," she says.
But writing ultimately brought her back to filmmaking.
Her latest film is like many of her others in that the title - UFO In Her Eyes - takes its namesake from her novel.
It is the first novel Guo wrote as a film story. The plot surrounds an anonymous woman from a Chinese village, whose life changes after she sees a UFO.
"What inspired me about filmmaking is that I can visually deliver so many powerful and unique faces, voices and landscapes," Guo says.
"With words alone, I can`t provide such specific portrayals."
She worked on the screenplay in Paris before heading to China earlier this year to scout locations. Switching between countries and cultures and living out of a suitcase doesn`t bother her.
"Life is elsewhere, after all," she says.