A bond that transcends two very different, yet not at all distant cultures.
Writer-director Andrea Segre‘s Shun Li and the Poet (Io Sono Li) is a compelling, tranquil drama about two people who forge an unlikely friendship. Shun Li (Zhao Tao) is a 30-something Chinese immigrant who was brought to Italy to work as a seamstress in a textile shop to pay off the men who brought her there. She is a hard and obedient worker and someday hopes that her hard work will win her the opportunity to be reunited with her eight-year-old son who still lives in China with his grandfather. In this quietly moving character story, we soon learn the poetic sadness of both sides of Shun Li’s tale.
Shun Li was transferred from the textile plant to a small Venetian Lagoon town pub in Chioggia to work as a bartender. While there, she makes and serves coffee and other beverages to the local fishermen. It is there she meets Bepi (Rade Sherbedgia), a retired Slavic fisherman, who recently lost his wife, begins to build a subtle friendship with Shun Li. Bepi or ‘the Poet’ as his friends call him, senses her isolation and loneliness and understands this because he emigrated to Chioggia decades ago. Each helps the other to overcome loneliness. The customers, on the other hand, view their friendship as a threat and begin to speculate Li’s motivations and interest in an old widower.
The subtle and platonic friendship between Bepi and Shun Li beget rumors and even threatened the possibility of Li being reunited with her son. Her brokers told her to dissolve the “relationship” or risk being moved to a new location for work and her debt repayment will reset to zero–she would lose all those years of earnings for the friendship thought disrespectful to the Chinese that live and work in the same community. Reluctantly, she ended her friendship with Bepi. The locals were equally cruel to Bepi in mocking his relationship–the rumors were that their friendship was much more than he led on–humiliating him socially and physically. Bepi, once a very respected member of the Chioggia fisherman social circle–turned social outcast.
Shun Li and the Poet is a very simple, yet poignant tale about two outsiders who cared enough to help the other out of their loneliness for a short time. More amazingly, that the friendship between these two people flourished in the poetic realm of their environment–the cinematographic and architectural beauty that is Venice, and its equally beautiful water filled streets. The film admirably focus on these two very different, yet kindred spirited characters and how they were still able to bond amidst the social ignorance and pressures of their community.