dGenerate Films is proud to announce that Crime and Punishment by Zhao Liang and Using by Zhou Hao, two important works from China’s contemporary independent documentary scene,are now available for institutional purchase in the US as part of the dGenerate Films catalog. Together, these two films offer a candid, revealing look at two facets of crime and law enforcement in China: the interrogation tactics of military police in Northeast China, and the lives of drug addicts in Guangzhou.
Crime and Punishment (Zui Yu Fa), directed by Zhao Liang
Amidst the barren wintry landscape of Northeast China, Chinese military police officers rigidly enforce law and order in an impoverished mountain town. They raid a private residence to bust an illegal mahjong game, casually abuse a pickpocket accused of throwing away evidence, and berate a confession out of a scrap collector working without a permit. The police switch between precise investigative procedure, explosions of violent fury, and moments of comic ineptitude, all captured incredibly before the camera.
A prime example of how independent documentaries are on the vanguard of Chinese cinema, Crime and Punishment is an unprecedented look at the everyday workings of law enforcement in the world’s largest authoritarian society. With penetrating camerawork, Zhao Liang (Petition, 2009 Cannes Film Festival) patiently reveals the methods police use to interrogate and coerce suspects to confess crimes – and the consequences when such techniques backfire. With a cold, objective eye that depicts reality in great detail while withholding judgment, “Zhao’s artistry is instantly apparent.” (Robert Koehler, Variety)
In the January 2010 issue of China Perspectives, Jie Li of Harvard University has a lengthy appreciation of Zhao Liang’s documentaries Crime and Punishment and Petition. Here is an excerpt on Crime and Punishment:
With patient long takes and an ambivalent gaze that is in turn complicit, compassionate, or critical, Crime and Punishment shows us the human beings in military uniforms – their capacity for rage, sympathy, and fear – as well as how the power authorised by these uniforms might dehumanise – through violence and humiliation – not only those suspected to be criminals but also the police officers themselves. Apart from discipline and punishment, much police power resides with surveillance, but a sustained look at the other can also generate empathetic recognition, and returning the gaze may well be the first step for the powerless to empower themselves.
Using (Long Ge), directed by Zhou Hao
For three years, filmmaker Zhou Hao chronicled the lives of Long and Jun, a couple struggling with heroin addiction in Guangzhou. Zhou captures Chinese junkie subculture, its members languishing in a slum flophouse, the equivalent of a modern day opium den. When Long is hospitalized after a failed robbery, Zhou speaks out from behind the camera to intervene. Still, Long and Jun persist, soon dealing drugs full-time to make ends meet. As the couple increasingly offers lies for answers, Zhou must confront his ethical responsibilities to them, as a friend and a documentarian.
Using probes a dark, cruel reality of contemporary Chinese society that has rarely been seen by any audience. Addicts disclose techniques for dealing with police, confronting sham suppliers and staying high throughout the day. Zhou’s unflinching depiction of his friends’ repeated attempts to quit blurs the line between filmmaker and subject, and raises provocative questions about the ways in which each uses the other.