Jia Zhangke on “Bull—-” Patriotism, Li Hongqi, Dragons and Tigers: New Cinema-Scope

Jia Zhangke

The new issue of Cinema Scope magazine has a heavy dose of Chinese cinema coverage.

In the magazine, Jia Zhangke, whose most recent film is the documentary on Shanghai I Wish I Knew, talks about disturbing behavior he has witnessed by Chinese audience members at international festivals in an essay titled “On the Bullshit Logic of Patriotism:”

A woman, about 20 years old and rather timid in aspect, addressed me in the lobby: “Director, I would like to ask you a question that won’t make you happy. Why do you want to shoot such a filthy-looking Shanghai and such politicized characters for the benefit of Westerners?” I replied: “I’m shooting the real Shanghai. Peyond Pudong and Huaihai Road, Shanghai also has industrial areas clustered on both banks of Suzhou River; it has small, narrow alleyways in the southern part of the city. This is what life looks like here. This is what Shanghai looks like.” The woman suddenly became angry. “So, haven’t you taken into consideration how your film will look to foreigners who watch it? How it will influence their impressions of Shanghai and of China? How it will even influence foreigners’ confidence in investing in China?” I also go angry. “What’s the point of worrying so much about foreigners? Should we ignore what actually exists just for the sake of a bit of foreign investment, for the sake of whatever impressions foreigners might derive of China? The vast majority of china’s 1.3 billion people still live in the same conditions of poverty that they always have. How can we ignore this?”

In the magazine and online, J.P. Sniadecki interviews director Li Hongqi on his acclaimed dark comedy Winter Vacation, winner of the Golden Leopard at last year’s Locarno Film Festival:

Li: Normally, when people accept something as humorous, their reaction is to laugh. I laugh too. I am not always hanging around with a long face and feeling awful all day. So, in the process of watching the films the audience does indeed laugh. They may want to stop themselves but can’t. So when something funny happens, their natural reaction is to laugh, and that’s actually something that I want, too. If they didn’t laugh I would think I had failed. But my hope is that, after they have finished laughing and the film has ended, they feel uneasy about all the times they have laughed. In the end, I take away all the objects of ridicule for the audience and they can only face their own feelings, face themselves as individuals. I have no idea how people will actually look at their lives and examine themselves after seeing the film, but I want to be able to express this through filmmaking.

As an online exclusive, Robert Koehler hones in on the Dragons and Tigers showcase of Asian cinema at last year’s Vancouver International Film Festival. He gives special attention to Xu Ruotao’s Rumination:

Xu Ruotao’s Rumination… is fabulously sui generis, even amongst more adventurous Chinese independent films… [it] trains its attention on children. These however are grown children – stunted may be the best term – members of a Red Guard unit whose mission appears to be permanent revolution, which is to say, chaos. This is certainly the harshest film attack on the madness of the Cultural Revolution, since it deposits the viewer into the period without comment or context, and plays tricks with time and history. Xu presents the Guards as a collective human monster from whom no one can escape, while also being a wretchedly inept bunch of ragamuffin idiots whose “knowledge” is nothing more than spouting Maoist cant. Xu tackles cinema not so much as the visual artist he’s been up to now – he’s known as an abstract painter – but as an artist intent on creating a revolution within cinema. That’s not to say thatRumination isn’t continually complex and rich in its visual approach. Xu steadily shifts from semi-realist settings in barns and farm houses in the countryside, where the guard members regularly hunt down and beat the shit out of anyone they wish to – sort of like Alex’s A Clockwork Orange droogs only with a government license – to more and more theatrical interiors, where action gives way to displays of Maoist icons and symbols, the same empty language spouted but now without any meaning, because meaning has been drained out of this “revolution” by degenerate violence. Xu’s editing and camera movements are controlled and yet amped up, with a feverish sense of a world cracking up expressed in a weird, creepy chain of sequences whose relentless ferocity is probably the closest thing to the Cultural Revolution’s crazed militarism without having been there. These are the children of Mao, but there’s not a Coca-Cola in sight.

Additionally, Olaf Möller discusses the career of pioneer Chinese filmmaker Fei Mu.

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