Avant-garde Chinese film that you probably wouldn't see a few years ago
Introduced in the Toronto International Film Festival last September as "a milestone for women in the new Chinese cinema", "Perpetual motion" now comes to the Hong Kong and San Francisco international film festivals, back to back, in April 2006. Director Ning Ying was on hand for a post-show Q&A session in a HKIFF screening I attended, and was enthusiastically received.
Covering a time span of about 24 hours, the movie shows how 4 women spend Lunar New Year Eve in a plush Beijing mansion. The host organises the party with a hidden agenda of trying to find out which of her three good friends has been sleeping with her husband. Through various activities of the women (dining, mah-jong, chatting, TV-gazing) the audience is taken on a tour (de force or not is up to your own judgement) of varying moods from hilarious, to titillating, to pensive sometime frivolous, sometimes serious. Watching the movie, I at times had a feeling of deja vu, perhaps connecting subconsciously to some stage plays I've seen before. Come to think of it, I wouldn't mind watching a stage version of "Perpetual motion".
Only one of the 4 protagonists, Li Qinqin, is a professional actor, while the other three excel in their respective fields, and their real life personas have been pretty well adopted for the characters in the movie. Huang Hung, for example, who plays the host Niuniu, is a successful magazine publisher and a radio co-host. Liu Sola (playing "Lala") is a musician as well as a writer. She trained as a classical pianist, turned to leather-clad rock, but released her first album in R&B. In addition, Huang's real life mother Zhang Hanzi, one-time Mao's English interpreter, takes on the role of the old family cook.
Whether this movie is entertaining depends on your point of view. I would venture to suggest that those who like the live theatre are more likely to enjoy it than those who don't. That it is distinctly experimental, sometimes surreal and often thought provoking is generally recognised. To those who find the movie mystifying, director Ning explained in the Q&A session that there is no fixed theme and different people may have different interpretations. To some of the "why" questions, she simply answered "Why not?" She did explain in more concrete terms that the title "Perpetual motion" is in the context of classical music (as opposed to physics, for example), signifying the rapid succession of discussions surrounding various topics sex, politics, East and West, the protagonists' haunting past etc.
Anyone interested in the up-to-date cinema and cultural scene in China should not miss this movie.
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