Asia Society Film Recap: Betelnut

Betelnut (dir. Yang Heng)

“China’s Past, Present and Future on Film,” the recently concluded film series at the Asia Society, yielded positive coverage from a number of reviewers. We’ve already linked to Andrew Chan’s piece on the series in The Auteurs. But we’ve also come across reviews of individual dGenerate titles that screened in the series.

For example, here are a couple of reviews of Yang Heng’s award-winning debut Betelnut. This first excerpt is from an online review by Joe Bendel:

Yang is definitely a director who believes in holding a good shot. Indeed, many of his tableaus are quite striking. While he patiently allows scenes to develop in their own good time, Yang often allows Betelnut to slow to a languorous pace, even compared to the impressionistic films of Jia Zhangke and his contemporaries of the so-called “Sixth Generation.” Yet, despite the film’s stillness, the promise of heat induced violence always feels palpable…

The uncompromisingly naturalistic Betelnut is one of the more demanding films of the Asia Society’s current independent Chinese film series. However, almost every frame is obviously painstakingly crafted by a keen visual stylist. Definitely a film for connoisseurs.

Critic and blogger Christopher Bourne offers his own praise for the film:

“Life seems so cheap sometimes.” This statement by a girl succinctly expresses the philosophy of the aimless characters of Yang Heng’s debut feature Betelnut, a quietly stunning film that finds great beauty in its stillness and austerity, rendering the actions of its characters within a rich musique concrete-like sound design and an intricately arranged visual field that makes us pay attention to the tiniest detail of its images. Yang often has major events of the film occur in extreme long-shot, obscured behind objects, or otherwise somewhere other than in the foreground. This serves to paint a compelling portrait of the restless youths in the film, who while away a hot, lazy summer by drifting on boats, voice chatting and playing video games at internet cafes, smoking, chewing betelnut, and having the occasional drunken binge in a karaoke bar. This all occurs in the ultimate dead-end town: there seem to be few opportunities or job prospects, no school, adults, or controlling authority, and the boys indulge in petty crime and thuggery. One of the characters manages to escape this place at the conclusion (although it’s hard to say for how long), while the others remain trapped in this endless, nothing existence.

Find out more about Betelnut.

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