Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
NYAFF ’13: Feng Shui
Shui is a traditional Chinese spiritual and aesthetic practice meant to
maximize the flow of positive chi in living spaces. The principles of shrewishness are pretty
universal. Both phenomena contribute to a
bossy wife and mother’s bad karma in Wang Jing’s Feng Shui (trailer
screens tonight during the 2013 New York Asian Film Festival.
soon as they move into their new flat, Li Baoli starts tearing into her passive
husband, Ma Xuewu. Suddenly, neither he
nor their studious young son Xiabao seem to do anything right. After about a day of this, Ma declares he
wants a divorce, but this only further antagonizes his wife. Launching an
emotional cold war against her husband, Li succeeds in pushing him into the
arms of his factory colleague Zhou Fen, with disastrous results for the family.
ten years: Li is now the primary breadwinner for her resentful son and her
grey-haired mother-in-law. Slaving like
a dog as a yoke-bearing street porter, Li lives for the day the high achieving Xiabao
takes his university entrance exams. However,
the teen has a general idea what transpired between her and her father and he
definitely holds it against her.
Feng Shui is divided into two
distinct halves. Initially, Li Baoli is
so foul-mouthed, insensitive, and downright mean-spirited she will have viewers
reeling. Surely, no movie character has
used the expression “dog-f___er” as much as her. Yet, somehow Yan Bingyan makes us care about
her rather deeply during the redemptive karmic payback portion of the film.
Bingyan is frankly amazing as Li, smoothly segueing from hot mess on wheels to
a weathered self-sacrificing maternal goddess in the Ruan Lingyu mold. She makes some extreme extremes look
perfectly believable and totally exhausting.
befitting a woman’s story, Feng Shui’s richest
supporting turns mostly come from women.
He Minglan gives a wonderfully subtle and humane turn as the
mother-in-law who can see both the bad and the good in Li. Likewise, Wang Moxi has some brief but
powerful moments as Ma’s almost mistress.
Zhao Qian also adds some seasoning to the film as Li’s best friend, an
aging trophy wife (who blames her less fortunate friend’s troubles on bad feng
shui). However, for an ostensibly smart kid, the teenaged Xiabao does not seem
to have much going on in his head, besides an awkward surliness.
Shui is based on a novel
by Fang Fang, whose work is either reminiscent of Neil LaBute or Ozu, depending
on which half of the film you judge by.
Clearly, Li Baoli’s trials and tribulations are intended to underscore
the difficulty realizing social mobility in contemporary China. It might be a stark reflection of reality,
but it is a good film. Recommended for
those who enjoy a quality tearjerker with an edge, Feng Shui screens tonight (7/3) at the Walter Reade Theater as part
of the 2013 NYAFF.
Labels: Chinese Cinema, NYAFF '13