Directed by Olivia Martin-McGuire, China Love takes us on a billion-dollar ride of fantasy-exploring, contemporary China through the window of the pre-wedding photography industry. Following couples as they navigate love, weddings and family in preparation for their upcoming marriage, the film also highlights the incredible changes taking place in a nation that is searching for the ‘Chinese Dream’.
By shining light on the Chinese pre-wedding industry, Martin-McGuire’s film surprises with its poignancy and subsequent beauty. On paper, the film’s subject matter might appear to some as a study in vanity as the next generation of Chinese wealth unloads thousands and thousands of dollars on extravagant photos of every conceivable fantasy. However, China Love is about far more than affluence and underwater wedding pictures. Rather than merely highlight the indulgence, Martin-McGuire points to the social and psychological importance of what these photos mean to the next generation of Chinese youth. As the country experience unparalleled change in its approach to global finance, the pre-wedding photography industry has become a manner in which the nation’s youth can live out the dreams and fantasies that have remained out of reach from their parents. While the weddings themselves remain steeped in communist tradition, the pre-wedding photos provide an opportunity for couples to assert themselves in new ways. As such, Martin-McGuire connects a strong line within her film between the past and future in ways that highlight the dramatic shift in values taking place in the present. For Martin-McGuire, these incredibly expensive moments provide an opportunity for personal expression and freedom from oppression.
While that sentence may seem like a gross over-statement, it becomes particularly accurate in this instance. With each snap of the lens, the couples—and the brides, in particular—revel in the fact that they’re being treated to dream of something more. In doing so, Martin-McGuire points to a celebration of beauty and dignity that, for generations, remained out of reach. For example, in the film’s most touching moment, a local non-profit provides opportunities for couples who have been married for fifty years or more to receive proper wedding pictures as a means of giving life to a generation that had previously been denied these rights. There is a simple beauty in these moments as elderly couples are offered a small piece of dignity. For these couples, wedding photos are more than simple reminders of moments in time. These photos are life-giving. As a result, there is a glory in these pictures that points to the Divine image in all people, regardless of their place of birth or political affiliation.
In the end, China Love proves itself to be much more than an exploration of the inner workings of a billion dollar business in a communist country. By shining a light on the wedding industry in a country where the concept of romance is considered foreign, Martin-McGuire recognizes the rights of each person to experience beauty in a manner that reminds them who they were created to be.
For that reason alone, these pictures are worth the cost.
To hear complete audio of our interview with director Olivia Martin-McGuire, click here.
China Love premieres on Friday, November 8that DOCNYC @ 9:45pm.