random thots

February 21st, 2008

1: lzh bought, and I watched, 《我叫刘跃进》/I am Liu Yuejin over the holiday. It was good, yeah, certainly better than 《苹果》/Lost in Beijing, but…

Well, I found it a bit 乱七八糟 (chaotic). It’s certainly worth a look, but I won’t rave over it.

But notice the name of the title character: 跃进- ‘Leap’ and ‘Forward’… 大跃进?Great Leap Forward? Is that what I’m supposed to be thinking. So while the character’s name (and somehow, thanks to the opening sequence, it never got clear in my mind whether the character who was supposed to be Liu Yuejin was actually Liu Yuejin. And what happened to the other candidate for that moniker?) is, perhaps, supposed to conjure images of mindless optimism and backyard steel foundries consuming grandma’s favourite wok and uncle’s old bike in Mao’s zany attempt to leapfrog the West, I’m watching this rather amoral character running around a Beijing even bleaker than that presented in Lost in Beijing (and both films are centred around the CBD and mostly “geographically tight”- sticking very much to real places that real Beijingers will recognise in their real positions relative to each other), a migrant worker even further out of his depth than the two in LiBJ, trying to extort a nice wee nest egg for himself. But the point I was intending to make is this: There’s a huge cognitive dissonance created by the clash of the title character’s name and the “reality” of the film. I think that is the best reason to watch I am Liu Yuejin, in fact. I’ve pondered over this film for a couple of weeks, now, and I’ve just about come to the conclusion (although, I’ll need to watch it one or two more times to be sure) that that cognitive dissonance is precisely the point of the film, it’s raison d’être.

2: I’ve been ruminating on this for months now, and I should precede it with a disclaimer that I don’t watch much TV (anywhere- I long ago, way back before I ever left New Zealand’s rugged but fair shores), and most, as in 99.999% of the TV I see here in China I see simply because my wife is watching it while I’m keeping myself busy some other way. Anyway, something I’ve noticed is a distinct north-south split in TV styles- and I think this carries through to film, too, although the distinction in film is not as great as that in TV. Now, I’m talking purely about “TV fiction” here, not about news, documentary, current affairs, variety, or other more or less non-fiction shows. The split I notice is this: The south (including Taiwan) produces mawkish, melodramatic soap operas depicting some kind of idealised life of the rich. The north (including Dongbei) produces sitcoms or drama, all gritty and down to earth, based in rural or working up to middle class situations, an admittedly airbrushed version of reality for those classes, but still, down to earth, like you can recognise your friends and neighbours in the characters presented.

Some examples of the northern style I can think of are 《乡村爱情》,《家有儿女》 and《东北一家人》.  Cop shows also fit into this style.

I won’t even try to name any ‘southern style’ shows, first of all because I don’t know their names, and secondly because I hate them. Those shows are so bad you could be forgiven for thinking they were made in New Zealand (and that’s one thing that I can’t understand about NZ- how can we have such an excellent film industry and such crap TV?). There are two my wife watches reasonably often- one is based mostly in Shanghai in the ’30s and follows the ‘adventures’ of a group of spoilt brat 20-somethings from affluent families in the run up and then outbreak of the war with Japan. I say ‘adventures’ because these losers are so pathetic and soft and coddled that encountering a beggar on the streets of Shanghai would’ve counted as some deeply terrifying adventure. Another, one that lzh watches in between episodes of 《乡村爱情2》, simply reeks of Taiwan, and somehow flits between somewhere presumably somewhere in Greater China and a chateau in France. The lead female character looks to be 20-something but behaves like an extremely spoilt 8-year-old, and the lead male character indulges her. I’m sure this particular show will feature prominently on the line-up of all of Hell’s TV stations.

Well, there you go. If you want me to watch TV here in China, broadcast programmes of that northern style. I still won’t like TV much, but I’ll manage to keep my sanity intact.

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