could be called a vanguard village. Now
entirely encircled by Guangzhou’s urban sprawl, San Yuan Li was once a hotbed
of resistance during the Opium Wars. However,
drug abuse and other social pathologies have recently become comparatively more
advanced there. Yet, new and old China
persist, side-by-side each other. A team
of artists document the neighborhood’s daily facts of life in Ou Ning & Cao
Fei’s San Yuan Li (trailer here), which screens
with Huang Weikai’s Disorder as part
of MoMA’s Chinese Realities/Documentary Visions film series.
has left a questionable mark on the village.
In rapid succession, the audience sees the cramped narrow alleys, dingy
sweatshops, haunted looking factories, and the hardscrabble laborers toiling
along the river. These are literal “fly-over
People,” living beneath the constant approach of airliners. In contrast, viewers also encounter the
modern consumerist class (often at booty level), as well as the young color
guards and traditional performers representing the ideals of previous eras.
its frenetically quick cuts and driving soundtrack, San Yuan Li is far more accessible than the term “experimental
documentary” would suggest. Although
shot in a very stylish black-and-white, the film is sort of like a National Geographic photo spread with
postmodern sensibility and an elevated social awareness. The net effect is often rather hypnotic. While not quite as pointed as Disorder, they are quite a compatible
pairing, collectively clocking in at about one and three-quarter hours.
there are plenty of telling images throughout San Yuan Li. Indeed, any
appearance of Mao portraiture is now ironic, haunting either the go-go
capitalism or mounting class inequities unleashed by the Party. Yet, there is also dignity in the faces of
average citizens, particularly the diverse selection of work teams captured
late in the film.
Neither documentaries have narrative structures per se, but they both convey a vivid
sense of contemporary China. As it
happens, both San Yuan Li and Disorder are distributed by the
dGenerate Films, the invaluable specialists in independent Chinese cinema. Highly recommended for China watchers who
want to do exactly that, they screen together this Wednesday (5/22) and the
following Monday (5/27) as Chinese
Realities continues at MoMA.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Chinese Realities, Documentary