Dryer would approve of this Beijing police detective named after his famous TV
character. Brother Zhang Huiling
(Hunter) is a broken-down, asthmatic copper, pursuing workaday crooks on
Beijing’s bunco squad, but there is no denying his work ethic. After years of hard drinking and hard
policing, Zhang encounters his personal Moriarty in Gao Qunshu’s Beijing Blues (trailer here), which screens
today during the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.
is a lot of money on the streets of Beijing, but many of the flim-flam artists
Brother Zhang’s team investigates prey on their fellow proletarian. Shot in a hand-held, on-the-fly docudrama
style, Blues is initially rather
episodic, capturing Brother Zhang on the job, stalking and eventually busting
assorted counterfeit pushers, traffic accident scammers, and fortune-telling
hucksters. However, the legendary con
artist Gold-Digger Zhang has reportedly blown into town and dispatched his
minions for an impending crime wave. A street
level chess match ensues between the two old dogs.
established his blockbuster credentials in recent years, Gao returns to the
gritty aesthetic and unconventional casting of his kind of brilliant, NYAFF selected
Old Fish. Like the real life cop who played Fish’s protagonist, many of Beijing’s
Finest appear in Blues, usually
playing cops, logically enough. However,
most of the cast were well known Chinese bloggers and social media figures,
including former publisher Zhang Lixian, who is sensational as Brother Zhang. Zhang perfectly expresses his namesake’s
world-weariness, as well as his steadfast commitment to principle, while still suggesting
he is always an inch away from doing a full Howard Beale.
could have easily trimmed some of Brother Zhang’s plugging away from the
repetitive mid-section, yet his character is always engaging. When Gao kicks it into gear, the tension
truly mounts, but in subtly ironic ways.
Much like Fish, Blues consistently defies cop movie
conventions. While his earlier film presented
a jaundiced view of the corrupt and ineffectual police bureaucracy, Blues lets Brother Zhang’s colleagues
and superiors off the hook. Instead,
contemporary Chinese go-go-don’t-get-involved society falls under Blues’ withering glance.
Who knew China’s micro-bloggers, street buskers,
reality show contestants, and screenwriters were such good actors? From stem to stern, the entire ensemble
appears true-to-life and completely believable in character. Led by Zhang’s richly textured lead performance,
Beijing Blues delivers entertaining idiosyncrasies
and unexpected depth. Highly
recommended, it screens today (7/9) at the Walter Reade as part of this year’s
New York Asian Film Festival.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, Cop Movies, NYAFF '13