Slow-burning critique of modern China's crisis
OPENS DECEMBER 12, CERT 12A, 117 MINS
After misfiring spectacularly with the erotic thriller Killing Me Softly, director Chen Kaige returns to more familiar territory for this sly critique on the clash between traditional and modern ways of life in contemporary Chinese society. Liu Cheng is a kind-hearted but buffoonish peasant whose son, Xiaochun, is something of a musical prodigy. They make the journey from the sticks to Beijing, so Xiaochun can benefit from the tutelage of a prestigious music academy. But once there, they learn that success is as much about razzle-dazzle and cut-throat marketing as it is about natural talent.
Representing the modern, consumerist China is Lili, an exuberant prostitute who lives in the same building as Xiaochun. She’s the opposite of everything he comes to despise in his browbeaten father, and he, in turn, is prepared to go to any lengths to impress her. The symbolism of China whoring itself for Western trinkets isn’t hard to miss, but there’s enough heart and warmth in the slow-burning film to avoid didacticism.