a put-upon Kafka character, San Bao has lost his voice. Life in go-go Beijing has not been kind to
him. In relatively short succession, he
lost his girlfriend, his dog, and his apartment. He really is not in the mood to talk, even as
he silently forges unlikely new relationships.
However, Zhang Yuan has plenty to say about the state of contemporary
China in Beijing Flickers (trailer here), which opens the
2013 Global Lens film series, once again launching in New York at MoMA, this
is hard to say whether getting dumped hurts more than his dog running away. While it means little to him emotionally, San
Bao’s eviction leads to the immediate issue of homelessness. He sort-of kind-of solves the problem
short-term, by chomping down on a glass during a drunken bender. Of course, that also leads to hospital
bills. Ironically, this turns out to be
a good thing. The bar’s singer You Zi
held onto his cell phone for safekeeping.
When reclaiming it, he is struck by her ethereal voice and beauty. Somehow, a circle of friends develops around
the two psueudo-lovers, incorporating her roommates, San Bao’s buddy from home,
and the female impersonator with whom he is crashing.
not a musical per se, Flickers is
like a Chinese version of Rent, in
which dispossessed and Bohemian Beijingers band together to face the trials and
tribulations of a highly stratified society.
Much like his thematically similar Beijing Bastards, Zhang also includes plenty of music, including You Zi’s haunting
signature number, further supporting the comparison.
is doubtful very many Brooklyn hipsters could cut it in Zhang’s Beijing. On one hand, this is a predatory system of
have’s callously exploiting the have-not’s.
Yet, it is also a lawless environment, where the slightly less than
stable San Bao periodically lashes out physically, with little fear of
repercussions. It is like the worst of
Flickers might sound grim (okay, it
is grim), but Li Xinyun truly lights up the screen as You Zi. In addition to her distinctive look and
sound, she brings dignified resiliency to the alt-torch-singer rather than
overly cute pluckiness. While she has
far less screen time than the rest of the principals, Han Wenwen is also quite
powerful as You Zi’s roommate Su Mo, giving the audience a bracing slap during the
film’s one big jaw-dropper scene. As the
more-silent-than-strong San Bao, Duan Bowen lends the film commendable
cohesion, interacting with each member of the large ensemble with subtly
different shades of either fierceness or sensitivity.
Although Zhang’s recent films have clearly been
more pleasing to China’s popular audiences and government authorities, Flickers is very much a return to his
in-your-face Bastards roots. Yet, the noir-ish style and seductive
soundtrack make it a considerably more polished viewing experience. Basically, that is a win-win combo. Enthusiastically recommended for China
watchers and aspiring Bohemians, Beijing
Flickers begins a week long run at MoMA this Thursday (1/10) as the opening
selection of the year’s Global Lens (which also includes the highly notable Cairo 678).
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Global Lens '13, Zhang Yuan