Sunday, July 25, 2010

Gong Li & a Sixth Generation Love-in at Beijing's BC MOMA

Gong Li in her most recent film Shanghai, in which she co-starred with John Cusak.
 While Feng Xiaogang's IMAX blockbuster Aftershock (Tangshen da dizheng) was opening on 3,500 screen across China last Thursday (July 22), Beijing's BC MOMA cinema was hosting a big night of its own. Gong Li was spotted shooting outside and several star directorial talents – including Jia Zhangke – were on hand for the Beijing premiere of Wang Xiaoshuai's Chongqing Blues (Rizhao Chongqing).

China's queen of the screen Gong Li was filming outside the cinema on Thursday afternoon in the futuristic surrounds of the MOMA complex. The shoot took place just outside Kubrick cafe, located opposite the cinema. According to BC MOMA's Head Programmer Wu Jing, it was part of the star actress’ new feature Shui zhi nu ren xin, which roughly translates as Who Knows a Woman’s Heart? It's unclear whether this is the forthcoming re-make of Mel Gibson's What Women Want that was announced earlier this month, starring Li and Andy Lau.

Inside that evening BC MOMA hosted the Beijing premiere of Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chongqing Blues. Wang is a key director in the “Sixth Generation” of Chinese filmmakers who rose to prominence in the late 1990s, and is best known for his 2001 film Beijing Bicycle (Shi qi sui de dan che).

Wang's work has been patchy since Beijing Bicycle (which frankly was a patchy film in itself), so I was curious to see what Chongqing Blues was like. A mystery drama, the story traces the attempts of a father to uncover the events surrounding the shooting of his son by police during a hostage siege.

Wang beautifully captures the steep, crowded streets of Chongqing in all their steamy glory, but the story is a little unbelievable – the dead son's entire psychology is “explained” by the end of the film by his father's desertion of the family when the son was ten. While traumas like that in childhood certainly leave their mark, no person's life can be explained by single event.

Wang Xueqi is excellent in the lead, an aging sea captain grappling to understand his son's death and the lives of China's younger generation. The yawning generation gap is not something that often makes it onto Chinese screens, so it was good to see a film exploring the way several decades of explosive economic growth and rampant materialism have radically redrawn the lifestyles and priorities of China's youth. Young people whose parents were Red Guards now dance their nights away in clubs and shop in massive air conditioned malls selling designer labels.

Wang Xueqi in Chongqing Blues.
One scene in Chongqing Blues sees the main character follow his son's best friend into a nightclub, where he finds himself surrounded by gyrating mini-skirted young women and muscle-bound young guys in singlets and jeans. For aging Chinese who grew up under Mao, peering into the world of their children can be like stepping onto another planet.

Despite its narrative shortcomings, I quite enjoyed Chongqing Blues, but the response from the capacity crowd was fairly muted. The applause during the closing credits was over in moments, and even when director Wang Xiaoshuai took to the stage for a Q&A the clapping was pretty lackluster.

Wang Xiao Shuai takes to the stage at BC MOMA after the Beijing debut of Chongqing Blues. All BC MOMA images Dan Edwards.
After Wang took a few questions, the proceeding definitely perked up when an audience member directed a question at star director Jia Zhangke, doing his best to remain inconspicuous by sitting amongst the audience five or six rows back from the front of the cinema. Wang Xiaoshuai graciously invited Jia on stage, and then also called fellow Sixth Generation director Lou Ye (Suzhou River [2000], Summer Palace [2006]) up from the audience. Lou is currently officially banned from filmmaking in China after his depiction of the Tiananmen Massacre in Summer Palace.

A wave of excitement went through the crowd as the three directorial heavyweights stood together on stage, setting off a flurry flashes amongst the sizable press contingent.

Jia Zhangke joins Wang Xiaoshuai on stage.

Wang Xiaoshuai calls fellow Sixth Generation filmmaker Lou Ye from the audience.

There was a flurry of flashes from the assembled press contingent as the three Sixth Generation heavyweights stood together on stage.
After a few questions, Jia read out an article he had written for the Southern Weekend about the Sixth Generation’s philosophy and their desire to document stories otherwise excluded from Chinese screens. At the end of the reading the three directors huddled in a group hug, before facing the press for another round of photos.

Jia Zhangke reads out his article in the Southern Weekly on the Sixth Generation.

After Jia read his article the three directors huddled in a group hug.

Jia, Wang and Lou face the press.
After Jia and Lou Ye returned to their seats, Wang Xiaoshuai took a few additional questions, but it all felt a bit anti-climatic and the session quickly wound up. As the audience departed, Wang was surrounded by local journalists firing questions and taking more photos, leaving the rest of us to head out into the hot Beijing summer night in search of food.

Wang Xiaoshuai’s Chongqing Blues will be released in Beijing next month.

Jia Zhangke's new documentary
I Wish I Knew is currently screening at BC MOMA – more on that in my next post.

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