Incredibly slow paced, incredibly provocative, incredibly un
Edward J. Vytlacil | Manhattan | 12/19/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The movie has almost no plot and almost no character development. There is no action. The camera work is typically from a distance with a fixed camera, creating a very static image. It is a very slow-paced movie, it makes Kore-eda's films seem like Hollywood action flicks in comparison. And it is an incredibly powerful, provocative, gripping movie. Any "flaws" in the movie are clearly purposeful, contributing to the movie's overall effect.
The movie follows a group of young theatre and dance performers from 1979 through the 1980s, and uses them to explore the enormous cultural shift in China from 1979 through the 1980s. They are performers in a small city, with desire for change, to progress. We follow them through the 1980s as the cultural upheavals change their world, and yet they are still trapped. The one scene that best captures the theme of the movie occurs when they are in a bus that has broken down in a desolate location. They hear a train, a sign of progress, of movement, and a connection to the greater outside world. Some of them had never heard a train before, they cheer with excitement and rush towards the train tracks. The train rushes past them, leaving them the same, stuck with their old, broken down bus.
The individual identities of the characters seems unimportant, and purposefully so. We get a sense of lack of not only individual autonomy but also individual identity. The characters are swept along in the currents remaking China, with little control not only over their actions but even over their desires. The camera work further distances us from the characters and their internal thoughts and feelings. There is no character development, further reinforcing the lack of identity and the lack of progress for the individuals. There are tremendous development in clothing, in music, in attitudes, as their environment is completely turned upside down, and yet their lives do not really change. The movie seems to give an incredibly sense of reality, capturing that time and place. The camera work is interesting, often able to create tremendous tension without using the standard gimmicks.
Much of the movie is very subtle and understated. You probably have to be Chinese and to have lived in that environment to fully appreciate and understand the nuances. If you do not already know a good deal about Chinese culture at that time (including Taiwanese/Hong Kong pop culture at the time), than the movie is likely to be fully incomprehensible. But even though it was only partially comprehensible to me, I would still rank it as one of my favorite movies. As a final warning, the movie is completely different from movies by fifth generation Chinese directors (Chen Kaige, Zhang Yimou, etc). For better or for worse, do not expect a film like Farewell My Concubine or Ju Dou."
Saw it 8 years ago and I still think about it!
AAH | Los Angeles | 11/12/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a truly magnificent film... if you're a fan of a certain kind of film. As the title of my review should make clear, the movie really had an impact on me. To this day I find myself thinking about some of the emotional responses in triggered while I was watching it.
It is a slow film (my wife fell asleep during it and she's a fan of many slow arthouse films) and only when looking back at it do you see that it does have a plot - but it certainly isn't a "plot" based movie. Nor is it a rich, sumptuous, colorful, lyrical film like Wong Kar Wai or even Terrence Malick. It's a character piece that unfolds with (upon later reflection) intricately designed and evolving camera work. It's not a flashy film by any means but I found that it had so much to say - and so deeply moved me by the end - that I can't forget it.
Zhangke Jia is one of the most important Chinese filmmakers and so it's also worth watching if you want to see the defining figure of the 6th generation ( (I think he's 6th generation - a Chinese cinefile will correct me if I'm wrong) of Chinese cinema."