It was a wholly different experience sitting in the Grand Theatre Lumiere and watching Robin Hood vs. the film I just saw, Rizhao Chongqing or Chongqing Blues. The non-response from the crowd primed me to think that the reception at screenings are as muted as they sometimes are at press screenings in LA. But the applause at the end of Chongqing, written and directed by Wang Xiaoshuai showed a different side of the journos and critics here. They will applaud but only if they like the movie.
Said the director Xiaoshuai about the idea behind it, based on a true story:
I am often on the lookout for small stories that are emblematic of contemporary China. In the newspaper and on the internet, I often read stories of this kind: news items relating hostage-ta- kings and police interventions that often end tragically. I find this all the more interesting that the image people have of China is that of a peaceful and danger-free country. These stories allow me to ponder over the changes that have recently taken place in China, and they become a starting point for a film.
I thought that this news item was rather simple and ordinary. However, it concealed the story of a family, of intertwined lives, and feelings. How do those who are close to him feel about this tragedy? He was a young man whose uneventful life got turned upside down when he committed a severe criminal offence. What was the reason for this? Was it just a simple act of juvenile de- linquency? The consequence of the father‚Äôs absence? Of the mother‚Äôs negligence? Of a human being‚Äôs corruption by society? Was it a question of passionate love?
A tough sit at 8:30am, Chongqing is a meditation on fatherhood, really. It is a heartbreaking story of a man who has returned from a “long fishing trip” to discover his abandoned son has wreaked havoc in a grocery store, or department store, stabbed two people and held another hostage. The father then sets about figuring out what his son’s last days were like, what his motives were, who he was and most importantly, what he looked like.
The father hadn’t seen him since he was a small child and would therefore not have any idea what his son looked like. The trick is that his son hates having his picture taken and thus, there is only a blurry video capture of his face.
Chongqing isn’t likely to set the critics aflame, nor make much of a splash stateside, but it is an example of a moving story well told. Haunting, mournful, and complete. It’s early yet, but this film will likely be on the list to win it. There are likely many more films this good and maybe better on the slate.
By the way, the Grand Theatre Lumiere is a heavenly way to see movies, even though I’m up in the balcony for the screenings. Plush seats, a wide screen and a deathly quiet crowd – perfection.
I am under the impression that, today, Chinese cinema is like a game, a pure product designed for the market, without meaning or depth. Everyone can be part of it. They all want to go to Hollywood to make films, explode box-office figures, and investors expect you to play by those rules.
Like a few other filmmakers of my generation, I stay out of this system. When you think diffe- rently, they don‚Äôt know what to do with you. My films have gained recognition abroad, but China is not interested in them because they are neither commercial nor entertaining enough. When my films are released, I no longer control anything, I can‚Äôt say anything. The public success of a film no longer depends on its quality, its director or its screenwriter, but on the amount of money invested to launch it. Culture is slowly fading away. Over a few years, we have shifted to a world centered exclusively on money, in which people no longer speak of quality, ideas or reflection. ¬†-Wang Xiaoshuai