A neurodiverse teen forms an unlikely connection with a queer student from Shanghai in Queens of the Qing Dynasty. Star (Sarah Walker) has been admitted to the hospital after an apparent suicide attempt. An (Ziyin Zheng), a student from Shanghai volunteering at the hospital, is assigned to look after Star throughout her recovery. The asexual Star and queer An develop a very unlikely rapport with each other, which develops into a special friendship.
Queens of the Qing Dynasty Synopsis
Queens of the Qing Dynasty is the sophomore feature film from writer/director Ashley McKenzie (Werewolf). The film stars newcomer Sarah Walker as Star, a neurodiverse teenager admitted to the hospital after ingesting poison. Fellow newcomer Ziyin Zheng co-stars as An, who imagine themselves as one of the mighty Queens from the Qing Dynasty. Star and An develop a special connection throughout the film, with the former seeing the latter as a lifeline in an uncertain future.
My Thoughts on Queens of the Qing Dynasty
Unlike her 2016 debut film Werewolf, which was a straightforward drama, Ashley McKenzie infuses Queens of the Qing Dynasty with many surreal and experimental elements. This includes close-up shots of hands against the light, various animated sequences, and a first-person endoscopy. However, despite these flourishes, the film is about the growing friendship between the two protagonists of Star and An.
As much of the narrative of Queens of the Qing Dynasty is unconventional, the film's two-hour-plus running time runs at a bit of a snail's place. It isn't until the film's final act that there is any proper character development between the characters. As someone on the autistic spectrum, I admit that I was bothered by the depiction of Star, whose disability is never mentioned by name, as someone incapable of caring for herself. Granted, she is likely lower on the spectrum than me. Still, it's hard not to see Star's constant dependency on others, particularly An, of whom she leaves countless phone messages, as being somewhat ableist.
I wouldn't necessarily call Queens of the Qing Dynasty a sophomore slump for Ashley McKenzie, but I think the film is less accessible than her debut Werewolf. The film also probably would have been better if it was half an hour shorter than it is, as I did end up feeling its length while watching. I don't thoroughly recommend Queens of the Qing Dynasty, but it's an interesting film.