Review of Chongqing Blues (日照重庆; China, 2010)

May 16, 2010

Review of Chongqing Blues (日照重庆;China, 2010), A Tempo Films, Beijing Bona Films & TV Culture Co., WXS Productions production.

Director: Wang Xiaoshuai
Producers: Hsu Bing-Hsi, Zhang Hao
Executive Producer: Francesco Cosentino
Screenwriter: Wang Xiaoshuai, Yang Yishu
Editor: Yang Hongyu, Fang Lei
Music: Henry Wu
Cinematographer: Wu Di
Art Director: Lu Dong
Cast: Wang Xueqi, Fan Bingbing, Qin Hao, Zi Yi, Li Feier
Running time: 115 MIN.

Reviewed by Maggie Lee of The Hollywood Reporter at CANNES

Chongqing Blues (Ri zhao chongqing, 2010), d. Wang Xiaoshuai

Even though upgraded to Competition from its original place in Un Certain Regard, “Chongqing Blues” represents no notable artistic leap in Sixth Generation filmmaker Wang Xiaoshuai’s repertoire. Flowing with the same pensive, heavy cadence of the river that visually and metaphorically dominates the film, it is an old style exploration of the new face of China through an itinerant father’s return to the titular city to make sense of his son’s death after abandoning his family for 15 years.

It may be solidly directed with Bressonian detachment and anchored by an absorbing performance by lead actor Wang Xueqi, but it is neither outstanding nor revelatory enough to play outside of a cluster of European art house cinemas.

While away on a long voyage, ship captain Lin Quanhai (Wang)’s 24-year-old son Bo (Zi Yi) was shot by police for a random stabbing and hostage taking incident in a mall. Lin left his native city Chongqing when Bo was only 10. He goes back to talk to those involved in the case or close to Bo’s life in order to understand the circumstances of his death.

Lin’s journey is both that of an errant father taking stock of his guilty past and the return of a prodigal son to his hometown to find himself an outsider. However, other than a vague suggestion of wanderlust and phone calls from Lin’s new wife expressing agitation at his long absence, there is no penetration into why he was unwilling to stay put with either of his families. Wang’s director’s statement citing Lin as a symbol of restless, ever-changing contemporary China doesn’t explain or convince.

Wang’s usual strength of depicting without condescension youth boxed in by their backgrounds (“Beijing Bicycle”) or political milieu (“Shanghai Dreams”) are compromised by contrived scenes to emphasize Lin’s disconnect from his son’s generation — like his gawking in the club where Bo’s buddy Hao (Qin Hao) dances, or his attempt to enlarge a screen-capture image of Bo (the pixilated effect symbolizes his blurry impression of his son). Nor do accounts or flashbacks by Hao, Bo’s girlfriend Xiaowen (Li Feier) or the hostage (Fan Bingbing) provide enough insight into Bo’s inner world and eventual breakdown (except that he misses his dad), to make him speak for China’s disaffected youth.

The city’s grungy character is captured by a roving handheld camera that follows Lin’s from behind as he wanders around muggy streets strewn with dank and weathered buildings, always teeming with scruffily dressed crowds wearing stressed out frowns. These downcast images are intermittently juxtaposed with splendid wide shots of the riverside cityscape, veiled in
layers of fog and haunting compositions of a pier filled with scrap construction vehicles.

Editing is clean and maintains a comfortably measured pace even if the film is overall too long at 115 minutes. Occasional use of a romantic piano score sits awkwardly with the gritty realism conveyed by the ambient sound and natural lighting in outdoor scenes.

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Trends in Chinese Cinema, Part V

May 1, 2010

Trend Four: China Indies Go International

Caught between commercial cinema and “main melody” productions, Chinese independent cinema, represented by some of the leading voices of the sixth generation as well as some of the emerging post-sixth generation filmmakers, finds itself increasingly forced to confront two “enemies” in order to survive: politics and the market. Despite the fact that building China’s first art/independent cinema chain has been a recurring appeal, the Chinese exhibition market is dominated by commercial chains and there is little room for art/alternative films to be publicly screened or to have a longer showing at cinemas. Similarly, despite the talk that the authorities have been considering to implement a rating system, the censorship regime seems to have strengthened itself in recent years and censorship/self-censorship is a common practice for the government and individuals alike. Independent Chinese filmmakers must often face the hard choice of either compromising with the system or risking being banned from public showing. As a result of this “double squeezes”, independent filmmakers, almost following the steps of their predecessors (most of them have undergone transformations and become commercial filmmakers), have to eye overseas markets, particularly film festival venues. Names like Wang Xiaoshuai, Lou Ye, Jia Zhangke, Guan Hu, Guo Xiaolu, and Du Haibin often appear in domestic papers, but their works are usually first shown at international film festivals, and later on gain their second life in local pirated DVD markets. Banned or not banned, their works have not yet found a reliable audience base, and this is largely due to the overall unfriendly environment of China that cultivates the “make quick money” mentality and encourages political complicity.