Fortune Teller (Suan Ming)

XU Tong. China, 2010.
Documentary, 129 minutes. Mandarin w/ English subtitles.

Fortune Teller The colorful life of a countryside fortune teller provides a candid and deeply revelatory look at people living on the fringes of Chinese society.

Li Baicheng is a charismatic fortune teller who services a clientele of prostitutes and shadowy figures whose jobs, like his, are commonplace but technically illegal in China. He practices his ancient craft in a village near Beijing while taking care of his deaf and dumb wife Pearl, who he rescued from her family’s mistreatment. Winter brings a police crackdown on both fortune tellers and prostitutes, forcing Li and Pearl into temporary exile, during which they visit their hometowns and confront old family demons. Li’s humble story is punctuated with chapter headings reminiscent of Qing Dynasty popular fiction.

In Fortune Teller, Xu Tong continues his work documenting China’s underclass, whose lives have gone largely unnoticed during the country’s boom years. Xu spent a year filming nearly every detail of Li’s daily existence and the ancient spiritual practices he administers. Fortune Teller is “an exhaustive case history on the marginalization of the poor and disabled under Chinese capitalism” (Ronnie Scheib, Variety) and a “complete immersion into their deceptively simple world in the countryside of northern China” (Ada Tseng, Asia Pacific Arts).


Director’s Bio:

Xu Tong


USC/Asia Pacific Arts


MUBI Notebook

Brooklyn Rail

Select Film Festivals:

  • Official Selection, Bright Future, Rotterdam International Film Festival
  • 2010 Chongqing Independent Film Festival – NETPAC Award for the Best Feature-length Film
  • 2010 China Documentary Film Festival — Jury Prize
  • 2010 Hong Kong Chinese Documentary festival – Second Prize Feature Film
  • 2010 Vancouver International Film Festival – Dragons and Tigers Selection
  • 2010 Cinema Digital Seoul Film Festival
  • 2010 Beijing Youth Independent Film Festival
  • 2009 China Independent Film Festival – Annual Top Ten Documentary Showcase
  • 2009 Fourth Beijing Independent Film Festival

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