Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Personal Tailor: A Little Wish Fulfillment
Zhong is sort of like Mr. Roarke on Fantasy
Island, except he is always on the make.
For a price, his company realizes their clients’ fantasies. He is nobody’s altruist, but lessons will
still be learned in Feng Xiaogang’s Personal
opens tomorrow in New York.
is the “Director of Dreams,” his right hand man Ma Qing is the “Spiritual
Anesthetist,” Miss Bai is the “Fantastician,” and Xiaolu Lu is the “Caterer of
Whims.” Together, they are “Personal
Tailor” and they are used to some strange requests, like the creepy woman with
a WWII martyr fetish in the James Bond-like prologue. Many of their fantasy scenarios are a
peculiar product of contemporary China, such as the chauffeur, whose recent
string of bosses were all government officials convicted of corruption. Believing
he would wield power more responsibly, the driver hires Personal Tailor to put
his ethics to the test.
of the broad humor in Tailor is not
particularly suited to the American market.
However, art house patrons familiar with the Digital Generation and
related Chinese indie filmmakers will be amused by their next client. Having achieved every possible measure of
success for his “vulgar” films, a popular director hires Yang’s team to
experience the world of art cinema, which Personal Tailor equates with
the first two primary assignments are played largely for laughs, the third is a
sweet tale with considerable heart. To
thank her for saving Ma from drowning, Yang’s team treats Mrs. Dan, a poor working
woman, to a pro bono day as a Nouveau Riche industrialist. Song Dandan adds a
touch of class and a strong screen presence in her “guest-starring” role and
Feng’s bittersweet vibe is quite potent, making it Tailor’s most appealing full story arc thus far.
shockingly, Tailor becomes quite
pointed and strangely touching in its concluding sequences. Lamenting the appalling state of China’s
environment, Yang disperses the team on a spiritual apology mission. It sounds corny, but it is effective. In fact, Tailor
reveals it was never the farce it pretended to be, but is in fact a work of
political protest. Yang and his
colleagues bemoan the rampant corruption, widening class inequality, and
environmental devastation just as strongly as Jia Zhangke’s followers, but in a
manner far more accessible to Chinese popular audiences.
Kaige regular Ge You is suitably manic as Yang, but dials it down nicely when
the film gets serious. Bai Baihe brings
appropriate sass and seductiveness as Miss Bai, while Li Xiaolu plays the more
demur Xiaolu Lu with greater sensitivity than one might expect. Zheng Kai has the odd moment too, especially
with the down-to-earth Song.
While some viewers might lose patience with Tailor’s goofiness, it is fascinating to
see its serious side slowly emerge.
Frankly, one would not expect such a strong critique from Feng, who has
established a reputation for flag-wavers, like Assembly and Back to 1942,
which China has selected as their official submission for the best foreign
language Academy Award. Although clearly
intended for popular audiences, China watchers should not dismiss it out of snobbishness.
Recommended for those who prefer screwball comedy with their social commentary,
Personal Tailor opens tomorrow (12/20) at the
AMC Empire in New York and the AMC Cupertino in the Bay Area, courtesy of China
Labels: Feng Xiaogang, Ge You