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NZ International Film Festival: North Asian Film

Jul 10, 2015 Film & TV

Film highlights from North Asia.


Coming Home sees veteran director Zhang Yimou team up again with actress Gong Li (Raise the Red Lantern, To Live). Gong Li plays Feng, whose academic husband Lu (Chen Dao Ming) is betrayed by their own daughter during the Cultural Revolution and sent to a labour camp. Arriving home after many years, Lu learns his wife suffered an accident trying to prevent his arrest and remembers little of him or their shared past. Criticisms that the film skirts around the political questions left by the Cultural Revolution miss the point. Zhang is fully in the Chinese tradition of oblique political art, leaving the viewer to make the (obvious) connection between Feng’s amnesia and a nation’s desire to bury its painful past.

Red Amnesia also examines the long shadow of the Cultural Revolution as it darkens the life of one family in present-day China. It’s the third instalment of director Wang Xiao Shuai’s Cultural Revolution trilogy. Newly widowed Deng Meijuan (Lu Zhong) finds herself adrift. Her children have no settled role for her: the elder son, Jun (who has fully embraced international consumerism), his wife Lu, who balks at Deng’s attempts to assert grandmotherly control over her young son, and the younger son, Bing, whose homosexuality Deng refuses to acknowledge, even as she fusses around his bachelor pad cooking and cleaning for him.

Amid this story of intergenerational tension and loss of shared values, Deng finds herself forcibly reminded of something she had managed to forget: a selfish deed committed during the Cultural Revolution — when all social and familial obligations were scorned — which allowed her family to escape banishment to a remote province, while condemning another family to decades of misery.

Shim Sung-bo’s Haemoo (Sea-fog) is a gritty and gripping nautical yarn about a Korean fisherman and his crew who forsake anchovies for a more lucrative trade: smuggling Chinese refugees. Things go badly awry when the boat is enveloped in thick fog. Tensions emerge and monsters arise from the depths (metaphorically speaking). The Caine Mutiny meets Das Boot with a touch of “Gangnam Style” (the cast features pop idol Park Yoo-chun).

Tall, charismatic and perhaps a little mad, Mayor Geng of Datong in northern China is the subject of Zhou Hao’s fly-on-the-wall documentary The Chinese Mayor. Geng wants to turn his unlovely, coal-choked city into a cultural capital by rebuilding its ancient city wall.

The problem is he needs to demolish thousands of illegal dwellings and relocate several hundred thousand residents. Haranguing corrupt officials, dispensing favours and brickbats, placating angry residents, placating his angry wife (who seems to relish having the camera as her witness), Geng puts in 18-hour days in pursuit of his dream. The result is a fascinating portrait of how things get done (and undone) in modern China.


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