By Steve Erickson
Zhao Liang has distinguished himself as one of the fiercest of the Chinese documentarians who’ve emerged in the past ten years. His 2007 debut Crime and Punishment offers a dose of Zhao’s filmmaking at full force. At first glance, the film, which closely follows the lives of Chinese military police monitoring a North Korean border town, might bring to mind American reality shows like Cops and its ersatz offspring. But its sensibility couldn’t be more different. Zhao’s film emphasizes punishment more than crime: his cops, remarkable for their lack of media savvy, repeatedly beat subjects in front of his cameras. Unlike American reality TV, these incidents aren’t served to the viewer as exploitation passing as entertainment, but something more ethically committed and unnerving.