East Bay View (a blog about several things)

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Saturday, April 22, 2006

SFIFF '06~!: Taking Father Home [festival note]

China, 2005
Xu Yun, Liu Xiaopei, Wang Jie, Song Cijun
Written by Ying Liang and Peng Shan
Directed by Ying Liang

Made for under four grand (!) (!!!), Ying's first film explores the city vs country themes that are no less important for their ubiquity in Chinese cinema today, within a coming-of-age framework. Mulish teen Xu Yun (played by mulish teen Xu Yun) goes to the big city -- Zigong, one of China's garden-variety megapolises -- to find his father, ostensibly to lead him back to his village. He meets a friendly roughneck, who teaches him how to eat watermelon like a man (dude assaults his slice), and a generous cop, both of whom act as temporary dads, and of course he ends up becoming like one of them. Xu, like the rest of the not only non-pro but non-paid cast, is hit/miss, and the writing is a little too neat even when (especially when) the tone darkens for the ending. But Ying has a terrific eye, and dreams up some dynamic settings: Xu alone at night at an intersection, trying each road in turn but finding nothing. And then bikers circle him, with pillion-riding girls twirling shirts, with grunts and squeals creating a nightmare that feels inescapable.

Despite the flood warnings that periodically pipe in ominously over radios, for the most part Ying keeps things from getting bogged down, and he's not above cute. The ducks that Xu carries in lieu of cash are the most dispassionate of observers, and there's a superfluous, delightful shot of a kindergarteners' singalong. And when the flood comes, Ying neatly blends in footage of a real Zigong flood, which should be all the more haunting to those of us with Katrina still fresh in our minds. So somebody please give Ying 20 grand for his next movie, so we can see his vision as he intends it -- and so he can pay his actors.

Not unrelated: Beijing to raze neighbourhoods for Olympics.


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