The writings of Bill Mousoulis
Chinese Film Festival - June 2000, Melbourne
Following on from the French Film Festival held at the same venue (Como Cinema, Melbourne) a couple of months back, this Chinese Film Festival was presented. It seems to now be a growing trend, having these festivals of national cinemas.
This festival attracted modest crowds, and the brochure presentation was not up to par (the info on years and directors below is taken from the poster, which is missing information), but this was a welcome festival anyway. I certainly appreciated the opportunity to see these films.
Eight films were presented:
(MY RATINGS SYSTEM: 0 = Bottom Ten of all time; 1 = Abysmal; 2 = Very Poor; 3 = Poor; 4 = Below Average; 5 = Average; 6 = Good; 7 = Very Good; 8 = Great; 9 = Masterpiece; 10 = Top Ten of all time.)
My impression: Like much of the cinema of the '30s, a story marked by depression (the financial, but also the spiritual, kind). Shanghai, and graduates can't get jobs, are behind in their rent, etc. But there's a playful, hopeful spirit on show, as our romantic couple tussle and sidle, like in any good '30s romantic comedy. The film has a casual, modest air about it, occasionally hitting some nice emotional peaks (thanks mainly to the coy but radiant performance by Bai Yang). Uneven, but pleasing. (7)
That strange, muted early '60s colour on show here, combined with a sparse soundtrack and simple sets, creating a somewhat artificial feel overall. And yet a number of the shots are quite beautiful, of melting snow, blossoming trees, etc. A man returns to a small town, and gets entangled with two different women. He slowly realises that his actions have consequences, but then he begins "vacillating" (a key word). A solidly-made melodrama. (6)
A sprinkling of populism over a story of a feisty, strong-willed woman. Very much a broad drama, somewhat crudely put together, not making (emotional) matters that clear to the audience (the dynamics of the triangle situation are muddled). And the over-acting causes some unintentional comedy. (It's maybe the first time I've heard voice-over which is indistinguishable from the character's normal dialogue voice.) Overall, a good story, basically done. (5)
Like Crossroads, set in the depressed '30s, but made several decades later. A shopkeeper and his family struggle to survive (economically and psychologically). There's a strong element of realism here, in the rundown buildings, and in the overall design. And the street/crowd scenes are frayed and frantic. Early on, with the snow and the shopkeeper's stocks falling, it builds a momentum of quiet nightmare (á la It's a Wonderful Life), but then settles back into being a conventional drama, adequately directed, adequately acted. (5)
Bai Yang, from Crossroads, and a lot less radiant, as she suffers through more misfortune. She over-does the acting a bit, especially towards the end, but it is the only thing in the film that is misguided. Sang Hu directs this film with surety, his mise en scène is classical and spacious, and the performances are nuanced and measured. That said, the film is plain emotionally, not really generating much feeling for the characters within the spectator. (7)
Country bumpkin alights in Shanghai, lives with his cynical aunt (who is younger than him, and a distant aunt). This is a good-natured film, rollicking us through various adventures with our hero. He is someone who wears everything on his sleeve, yet he also has something up his sleeve. And the film finally leans towards a romance, a romance between opposites. Overall, quite nice, but nothing interesting cinematically. (6)
© Bill Mousoulis July 2000
This review first appeared in Senses of Cinema, No.8, July-Aug 2000.