Interesting, but not perfect, film about the pirate DVD industry
'Pirated Copy' - good name for a Chinese film, is it not? I must confess that the title alone initially attracted me, long before I discovered that the director was He Jianjun, who also directed the muted, though enjoyable, 'Butterfly Smile', and the eerie 'Postman'.
DVD and video piracy is certainly a hot topic, offering many possible angles of attack: the economic approach, highlighting copyright infringement and loss of revenue, as well as the economics of bootlegging itself. There is a political angle of government censorship, as well as the issue of what is 'art' and what is pornography, and who has the right to judge. Then there is a sociological angle, the role that bootlegging plays in society, the needs it meets, the desires it expresses, its causes, and the dynamics of the subculture in general.
These are all possible matters for consideration suggested by such a title, and this film does raise some of these issues, though in a manner that is a bit of a mixed bag. The main point which really stood against greater enjoyment was the odd mixture of documentary style (as in the many police-chases of bootleg-DVD sellers recorded on hand-held cameras), which did not sit well with the scripted sections of the film. These follow various personages as they pursue their particular cinematic tastes, and are in turn affected by what they view. There is, for example a teacher interested in the open sexuality of Almodovar, and a prostitute looking for romance rather than sex. Another couple, inspired by 'Pulp Fiction', decide to become criminals, in a facile section that could almost have been scripted by a conservative pro-censorship lobby group. The acting in these sections also varied from quite good to the below par, and the dialogue also varied from natural to contrived.
Further, filmed on what seems to be a digital camera, the images seem much crisper and brighter than I am accustomed to, though as a consequence also less forgiving and less atmospheric. I couldn't help thinking after viewing this film how much better it would have looked had it been filmed in black and white, perhaps with a slightly grainy film stock. There has been some excellent use of digital video (such as in Godard's 'In Praise of Love', but it needs some extra work done to it to really please the eye. This, however, is my own preference.
There were, however, other positives, which made the film worthwhile. The first was the suggestion that, in China at least, the attraction of bootlegs is not merely their price, but that the films available illegally may have been proscribed by the government, or perhaps severely edited, so that the pirate-DVD industry is actually contributing to making more widespread a body of unofficially available films.
The second thing (which surprised me) was the demand for, and availability of, art-house films. There certainly seemed to be a better selection available in China than in this reviewer's (more liberally-governed) home country. Perhaps the best way to ensure a film's popularity is to ban it or limit its circulation. Or maybe I just don't know the right people.
Though there were certainly some aspects of the film I would have done differently, there was enough in the film to maintain interest, perhaps due more to the subject matter than the way it was executed. It would have been better either as a straight documentary or as a regular film (perhaps in a portmanteau style, or as a set of interlinked stories), with more attention paid to visual presentation. Still, worth a watch as an interesting introduction to the bootlegging subculture in China.
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