a simple Chinese peasant’s world, no good deed goes unpunished. In the world of
Chinese actor Chen Jianbin, a supporting cast-member’s drug bust can be used to
cancel the release of his directorial debut. Arguably, their worlds are not as
different as they might initially appear. However, one might well debate just
who exactly is referred to in the title of Chen’s A Fool (trailer
which screens as an opening day selection of the 2015 New York Asian Film Festival, in advance of China Lion’s upcoming theatrical release.
is a salt-of-the-earth goat-herder, who is scrimping to get by after giving Li
Datou, the village wheeler-dealer a sizable bribe to facilitate his grown son’s
release from prison. So far, Li’s lack of results makes things rather chilly
for Latiaozi at home. The last thing he needs is an adult half-wit following
him home like a stray dog. However, Latiaozi and his Muslim wife Jinzhizi are
reluctant to turn out into the cold, lest he freeze to death on their property.
we might expect, the gruff couple warns to the idiot just about the time
someone comes to claim him. For a while, Latiaozi takes satisfaction from his
good deed until another group of self-proclaimed relations comes to claim the
fool—and yet another. Each time the supposedly disappointed parties try to extort
money from Latiaozi. It leaves the poor, unsophisticated rube in quite a state.
A Fool arrives within the same
festival season as Yuriy Bykov’s The Fool,
exhibiting kinships beyond the similar title. While Bykov is more explicit in
his criticism of Putin’s Russia, both films directly address the perils in being
honest and guileless when living in the midst a corrupt system.
Latiaozi does not stand a chance. Yet, his dogged earnestness exceeds all
expectations. There is no question A Fool
is a dark film, but it is not the proletarian passion play you might be
expecting. Indeed, Chen is his own best asset. The standout from Doze Niu
Chen-zer’s Paradise in Service and
dozens of previous films, Chen plays Latiaozi as an achingly transparent
everyman, incapable of deception and utterly overmatched by the wider world.
Similarly earthy and direct, former television sex symbol Jiang Qinqin is
shockingly glammed down and down-trodden looking as Jinzhizi. They completely
feel like a husband and wife with a long shared history together (which, in
fact, they are).
Wang Xuebing’s drug-related incident was the pretext used to cancel A Fool’s Mainland theatrical distribution, but it is
clear why Chen refused to re-shoot his scenes with a different actor. Wang’s
serpent-like charm and sarcastic edge are the X-factor that constantly kicks
the film up yet another notch. Any other Li Datou would merely be a pale shadow
The narrative of A Fool, based on Hu Xuewen’s novella, shares superficial
commonalities with any number of propaganda tales about exploited peasants. Nevertheless,
this is not didactic agitprop or a self-serving wallowing in the misery of
others. This is a pointed yet pacey film that happens to hold a mirror up to
reality while focusing on its rustic but sharply drawn characters. Highly
recommended, especially for Chinese visitors to our fair city who might not
otherwise have the opportunity to see it, A
Fool screens this Friday (6/26) at the Walter Reade, kicking off this year’s
Labels: Chen Jianbin, Jiang Qinqin, NYAFF '15, Wang Xuebing