By Maya Eva Gunst Rudolph
In Focus spotlights dGenerate titles that shed light on some of the weightiest issues in contemporary China. From the environment to government corruption to youth culture, the overlapping concerns of these films create a dialogue on some of China’s most compelling stories.
"Super, Girls!" (dir. Jian Yi)
From the disillusionment of a nascent political movement to the stark inequalities of a population in cultural tilt, films about youth in China reframe the way we evaluate the nation’s past, present and future. China’s sizeable youth population has long been a driving force in the nation’s labor, political, and intellectual development. Whether this youthful energy is applied towards exploited labor or championing a favored pop star, the voices of Chinese youth can help determine a style, a zeitgeist, and a moment of history.
The wide gulf in the experiences of “youth,” however, begs the consideration of the many young people who represent one of China’s least privileged populations. From migrant labor and trafficking to the battle for education, the plight of many children and their struggle to survive is a heartbreaking challenge. The following films adopt myriad perspectives to present the condition of youth in both today’s China and in the China of the past; attitudes of curiosity, unrest, longing, and a way to see China though younger eyes.
"No. 89 Shimen Road" (dir. Shu Haolun)
In No. 89 Shimen Road, director Shu Haolun tells a classic coming-of-age story, though one of characteristics painstakingly unique to a specific time and place: his own adolescence in a long-since-demolished Shanghai neighborhood in the late 1980s. Coming off the lilting reminiscence of his documentary Nostalgia, which culls personal and collective memory from the Shanghai neighborhood of Dazhongi as it is demolished to make way for a more modern Shanghai skyline, No. 89 Shimen Road follows sixteen-year-old Xiaoli who photographs his changing world and the vital characters who occupy it. Apart from the concerns of early teenage lust and an eerie shade loss that shadows the post-Cultural Revolution atmosphere of the 1980s, Xiaoli is unwittingly swept into the spirit of the 1989 student democratic protests. Culminating in a botched attempt to join the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, No. 89 Shimen Road presents a loaded moment in both national and personal history and, through the use of black and white photographs and a deeply-felt narrative, transports the viewer effectively through Shu Haolun’s memory – to a moment that has come and gone, but still sparks.