As you like it, or not

As Bordwell remarked about Tarr’s new feature, Man From London, that it is a film of “10% story, we might say, but 90 % atmosphere,” for the new film of Jiangwen, I would say, “10% sense, 90% non-sense.” I use the word “non-sense” , not as a misspelled version of “nonsense”, but as the opposite of realism, or what it is more often called, magic. It is interesting to think about how we understand magic: why does it work for certain people, what is the nature of this particular magic, etc. In this film, it seems to me, magic is something that defies our people, that intransigently perches above our grasp of the reality.

The 10% sense of this film, besides, is totally cliché. It is something we as average Chinese audience are able to recognize as events (movie screening of The Red Detachment), symbols (public canteen, village community, tractor on red road, ), but are nevertheless quite embarrassed to see presented in such a form. For all things that the filmmaker wanted to say, but dared not to say in a more direct form, he says them in an exuberant discursive confession. The magic certainly works for him. But here again, as in his first feature, there is something that troubles me profoundly. For although one of the protagonist is sent to exile, to one of those labor farm, he did not experience the least suppression of his personality. In fact, he is associated from two directions to both the luxurious capitalist life standard (both he and his wife came from Nanyang) and the center of power in Beijing (remember when he goes to Beijing, the only place he visited is the forbidden city, where his friend, played by the godfather of Chinese Rock music, tried to explain how can he rationalize his wife’s transgression). He is able to wear genuine leather jacket (à l’Armani, mind you), enjoy porridge in Ming dynasty styled dinnerware, and shot no matter how many wild gooses as he please. For quite a while, I believed that I was watching a English gentleman in his country villa, hunting with his herd of pointers (he is even better off with poor village kids running after his games). The only problem, of course, is that while he is busy engaging above sports, his wife is fucking some local idiotic teenager (the son of Jackie Chen). But again, isn’t this what would typically happen to a English gentleman? Out of pure pride, he offers the poacher a chance to see the velvet (another symbol of luxury) before his death. What a generous offer! And how humanistic! In the end, when he finally shot the kid, that is not even because the kid had close contact his wife’s belly, but rather because he does not feel it like velvet. And that is an insult you don’t expect a man to take, especially when he regards himself as the “sun” or “sunshine”.

Back to the issue of language, which is my favorite, I have to say, it bothers me a lot. I just couldn’t figure out what are these two people from HK are doing there. For Joan Chen it is ok. She did a good job. And also the young actress whom Jiangwen had the pleasure to sleep with and personally “gaodale” her belly, her acting is just as bad as I could imagine.

A lot of the responses to this film, critical and plebian included, express a sort of confusion. The desire to comprehend one of our most celebrated filmmaker is ruthlessly frustrated. For a while, I wanted to compare him with Fellini, who is also obsessed with himself as a genius. And feminists have ample reason to protest against 81/2 and City of Woman, which I have no problem appreciating. It is therefore certainly not a matter of understanding or not what he is up to (he said so himself), but that “do you like it?”


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