Wednesday, February 10, 2010


My plan was to go into bad-movie mode for a little bit, posting reviews of a couple of entertaining stinkers I'd seen over the weekend while reading the Adams book (see below), but all it takes is a trip to the Albany Public Library to send me on a detour. As I've said often enough, the place has a great and growing foreign-film collection, and last night they had a new arrival I hadn't heard of before. The story sounded interesting enough to justify a rental. It costs nothing and the film's hardly more than 80 minutes long. It won the Un Certain Regard award for writer-director Wang Chao at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was released on DVD as part of First Run Features' Global Lens Collection, which has turned up decent stuff before.

It's a pretty straightforward story of crime, changing times and family ties. Schoolteacher Qi Ming is heading to the city of Wuhan, where he went to college, for the first time in 40 years. He was rusticated during the Cultural Revolution, but fell in love, started a family, and stayed on after his rehabilitation. He returns at last to find a son who's gone missing, and he discovers that another Cultural Revolution has taken place. He seeks help from his daughter Yanhong and from a friendly policeman on the brink of retirement. It sinks in that his daughter's circumstances are pretty squalid. Her roommate is a whore who brings johns to their apartment, and Yanhong herself isn't much better. She's a hostess at He Ge's karaoke club, and the job involves a lot more than singing badly. She's also carrying He Ge's baby; she knows it's his because he's "the only one who never wears a condom." While Qi Ming and the cop pursue every possible lead, it becomes apparent that He Ge knows more about the missing man than he's letting on. Meanwhile, Yanhong is in danger of becoming collateral damage in a gang war between He Ge's crew and the powerful Director Tang who fancies her and resents He Ge hogging her for himself.

Yuan Tian as Yanhong, who travels in the opposite direction of her father, from city to country, but actually retraces his footsteps of forty years before.

Wang Chao films this story in a manner that creates more tension between father and daughter than between anyone and the local gangsters. It's not just a matter of him discovering her unsavory work and a scandalous pregnancy. It's also a matter of her lingering jealousy over the fact that her dying mother always liked brother better, and that dad came back to Wuhan to find him, not visit her. The real conflict of the movie is generational, not a gang war, between old and new culture as much as between dad and daughter. It's about an exile returning to the place he supposedly always belonged, and finding himself a kind of exile again, and a daughter returning to the old country to find little more than nostalgia and death. It's more an attempt at social realism than a crime film, though I think He Huang as Da Ge (see photo below) could have handled a more central role in a genre story.

Luxury Car (a Sino-French co-production) is an unflattering look at Chinese society, though it has nothing to say about politics, and it seems to have been made more for the global film-festival audience than for Chinese viewers. It played in Hong Kong, but maybe not in the mainland from what I could tell from IMDB. Despite what I wrote above, it may still have too much of a genre quality to be a convincing portrait of modern China, but as a low-key crime film with a strongly-acted family angle it's a healthy alternative to the country's glut of CGI historical fantasies and builds your appetite for more of contemporary Chinese cinema.

Here's an English-subtitled trailer, uploaded to YouTube by globalfilminitiative:

No comments: