Spider Lilies follows the heart-wrenching love story of two Taiwanese women. Zhuzi, is a tattoo artist in her 20s who continues her father’s legacy by opening up her own tattoo store. She inhabits a world of internal turmoil due to a past filled with grief and guilt. She isolates herself from love and dedicates her life to her brother, the only surviving member of her family, who lives with a severe mental disorder. Xiaolu, on the other hand, is an 18 year old who works as a “video girl” on a website meant for sexual stimulation. She acts like a daring and cheerful teenager, but underneath that mask lies a lonely girl, waiting for love.
Zhuzi and Xiaolu meet at Zhuzi’s tattoos store after Xiaolu walks in and points to a tattoo on the wall. This is a tattoo of spider lilies, a flower that grows on the edge of cliffs. This is also the very same tattoo Zhuzi wears on her left arm as a reference to her brother’s condition and the guilt she carries remembering it’s cause.
As a teenager, a massive earthquake destroyed her family’s house, her brother’s sanity, and her father’s life. Zhuzi was away at her girlfriend’s home when disaster struck. When she arrived home, she saw her brother standing beside their father – his arm bearing a spider lilies tattoo – among the debris of the collapsed house. Believing this tragedy was caused by the forbidden feelings she had for another woman, from that point on Zhuzi decides to abandon her love for her family, leaving her first girlfriend (Zhenzhen) screaming in the rain. “It’s not our fault!”
Xiaolu was abandoned by her parents, and raised by her grandmother. Xiaolu wants that tattoo to remember her crush, and first love which turns out to be Zhuzi. Through their interactions with each other, Zhuzi hesitantly, but slowly opens up her heart to this 18 year old girl.
Beneath the engrossing story-line and beautiful scenes that earned Spider Lillies the Teddy Award for Best Feature Film at the 57th Berlin International Film Festival and the Best Film Award in the 2008 Rome Asian Film Festival lies truth. Zhuzi is insecure not only about her past, but her sexuality, which she attempts to completely suppress after her father’s death, thinking that her relationship with Zhenzhen is at fault. Zhuzi points her fingers so easily at her first relationship that we can see her commitment not to make another “mistake.” Her modesty and reserve in front of Xiaolu further demonstrates her precaution. On a societal level, Zhuzi and Xiaolu’s relationship reflects the dynamic between lesbians in China. The feminine one will almost always take on the role of Xiaolu, who actively pursues, and the more masculine will inhabit a Zhuzi-type personality. Therefore, it is no accident that the director chose these types of characteristics for both Zhuzi and Xiaolu.
Despite the negative attitudes towards homosexuality still held by many in Chinese society, this film was very warmly received. True to the power if film, It touched the hearts of many because it portrayed the relationship between Zhuzi and Xiaolu wirh beauty, normalcy and care.