the years, the CCP has been overtly hostile to many expressions of regional and
national cultural tradition, but nowhere more so than in occupied Tibet.
Therefore, programming shorts that bring Tibetan folktales to life through
animation inspired by Thangka painting would not endear a film festival to the
Party authorities. Not surprisingly, the Beijing Independent Film Festival did
so anyway. Fittingly, two of Bai Bin’s Tibetan films anchor a program of animated
shorts, which screens as part of the Cinema on the Edge retrospective to the
fearlessly indie fest.
is no question Bai Bin’s The Hunter and
the Skeleton is the head-and-shoulders high point of the animated block. In
this ancient tale, a hunter rashly heads off in search of game, despite the
shaman’s warning. It turns out, this is an inauspicious time for such pursuits,
because a demonic skeleton has been hunting hunters. Yet, for some reason, the fiend
likes this hunter. First he gives the man a seven day extension before eating
him. Then he offers the man a deal—he will be spared if he leads the skeleton
to his village. Stalling for time, the man will have to defeat his new “friend”
with only the help of his talisman and his trusty hunting dog.
are real stakes in Skeleton, as well
as a rather macabre sensibility, which is why it is even grabbier than Bai Bin’s
environmentally-themed An Apple Tree.
In both films, the vibrant Thangka colors and stylized figures are unlike
anything you have seen in animation before. These are unusually striking films
that tap into centuries-old mojo. Any self-respecting animation fan needs to
check them out.
contrast, several of the other animated selections are much less accessible to mainstream
animation fans. Zhong Su’s Perfect
Conjugal Bliss and Ding Shiwei’s Double
Act play a double game, contrasting and conflating images of the authoritarian state with
post-industrial decay and class stratification, respectively. Visually, they
are often surreal, which helps confuse the censors and maintain plausible
is even more the case with Zhang Yipin’s How,
a sort of distaff, dystopian Little Nemo, and Qiu Anxiong’s abstract, avant-garde
environmental apocalyptic fable, The New
Book of Mountains and Seas Part 2. While Zhou Xiaohu’s Mirror Room holds considerably fewer political implications, the
sexualized gender-bending imagery is even more likely to provoke the Puritanical
Bai Bin’s film, the next most aesthetically and emotionally engaging selection
is easily Chen Li-hua’s Family Reunion.
Following the trials and tribulations of A-mei, an aboriginal migrant worker, it
too celebrates regional cultural traditions, while dramatizing the challenges
faced by itinerant laborers.
somewhat uneven, the collected independent animated shorts are often
challenging both in terms of visual style and thematic substance. However, the
preponderance of ambiguous narrative forms eventually blurs the constituent
films together. Still, the program is well worth seeing for the wonderfully
rich and distinctive work of Bai Bin and Chen Li-hua. Recommended for connoisseurs
of animation and experimental film, Cinema on the Edge’s animated film program
screens this Thursday (9/10) at the Museum of Chinese in America (MoCA).
Labels: Animated films, Chinese Cinema, Cinema on the Edge, Short Films, Tibet