My vote goes to a Chinese movie that was part of the 30th New York Film Festival back in 1992.
It took me 19 years to find out about this film and I just love it!
“The Story of Qiu Ju” is a simple story, although developed in China it may not be different from the quest of others around the world, a quest for justice.
Qiu Ju is a peasant in rural China. Her husband wants permission to build up a shed to dry chili peppers but the village’s chief deny the permission without further explanation. Frustrated and angry with the permit’s denial the husband mocks the leader for “raising only hens”, in reference to the fact that the chief have only daughters. In a one child policy China sons are preferable to daughters. The chief’s pride was injured and he beats Qiu Ju’s husband and kick him in the groin.
Qiu Ju take her husband to the doctor then goes to talk to the village’s chief, but the chief does not acknowledge any wrongdoing and says “there is nothing to be done”. His indifference not only hurts Qiu Ju but leaves her with a sense of injustice. This is the beginning of her quest.
When her desire for justice is not fully realized she kept looking at different levels of the legal system, hoping for the right thing. Unfortunately the legal system failed to meet Qiu Ju expectations.
How is justice achieved for Qiu Ju?
From a legal point of view we can start by asking the following question: Does she really has standing to make the claim? As a matter of fact she did not suffer any physical harm; her husband was beaten up and physically injured, not her.
Even if she has standing, why she kept appealing her case and moving through different levels of the Chinese legal system? After all, what was held at the first level seems fair.
Her husband suffered a physical injury she seeks compensation for the damage and got paid. If a remedy was given, why she kept appealing? Was she stubborn? Maybe, or maybe we need to look at it with from a different point of view.
If we look at it from a moral perspective, the fact that she was not hurt physically does not imply that she was not hurt. Her injury was not physical, her injury was intangible. That is probably why she never understood that getting paid would be an implicit way of recognizing she was right and the head of the village was wrong. Along the story she kept asking for the right thing to be done hoping for a real apology, for an explanation from the village leader but never gets it. His apology would have been a profound moral relief but the chief never intended to apologize because he never understood his wrongdoing. His wrongdoing did not operate in a void, he was also offended by Qiu Ju’s husband.
The acknowledgment of the harm was the remedy she was looking for. She did not care about the money, she wanted an apology. She just wanted the right thing to be done.
Although she wanted to believe “that there is some justice” there is a moment when Qiu Ju and her sister in law wonder if her search for justice has been fighting for nothing. Sadly enough, she did not get what she was looking for ending up with a totally different outcome.
Just as Officer Li suggest to the parties: “I want both of you to do some self-criticism”, we, as lawyers, should do some self-criticism also. Do we really pay attention to what people is asking for? Do we think in moral remedies? Do we have to divorce the legal from the moral or do we have to engage a righteous position and complement the legal with the moral?