Volume 21, Number 51 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 8 - 14, 2009
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL: FISH EYES
Directed by Zheng Wei
Starring: Gu Xing-Hong, Shi Pei-Liang, Shen Meng-Yao
In Mandarin, with English subtitles; 78 minutes
An Olympic Earthquake
BY ELENA MANCINI
The poetic cinematography and powerful narrative of 29-year-old Chinese filmmaker Zheng Wei’s debut feature makes it a worthwhile treat.
Set in a developing region of rural China during the period between the Sichuan earthquake and the Beijing Olympics, the film delivers a compelling perspective into some of the foremost socioeconomic tensions of contemporary China.
Deshui is a twentysomething loafer who lives with his father in a hut near the river. Lacking the means and the desire for gainful employment, he covets all of the global modern world’s trappings (technological gadgets, disposable cash). His desire to fast-track the gratification of his every material urge gets him mixed up with a band of local thugs and violently disrupts the life of his gentle, agrarian father and the mentally disturbed young woman that the elder has taken under his care.
The character studies in the film (and the cinematic contrasts between industrialized regions and their pre-industrialized counterparts) reveal not only the profound ideological struggles that riddle this modest family, but also the complex dichotomies that underpin contemporary Chinese society.
The film depicts these contrasts — between traditional values and modern self-absorption, conservation and consumption, agrarian work and post-industrial construction, natural beauty and machine-made edifices — with unsentimental drama and images.
The near absence of dialogue allows the characters to unfold in a manner that is mysterious and intriguing. The camera corroborates with the silence, augmenting interpersonal tensions and mute interactions in ways that surpass the eloquence of words. The contrasts between pollution and simple beauty are also explored through this sparse use of sound. This fresh and culturally relevant drama with incisive acting and beautiful cinematography deserves to be found by an international audience — and gives one hope that we’ll be see more from Zheng Wei for a long time to come.