At last, a movie from Mainland China without the blatant propaganda or the artsy highs of cultural overkill!
Not that there are only a few. It's just that we usually get either overly boring ones or excessively commercial ones in this Southeast region. The cleverly titled "One Foot Off The Ground" is in many ways a celebration of performance, whether off or on the stage. With an allegory to spiritual balance, the movie chronicles the unsteady lives of some quirky opera troupe members, all out of a job due to changing times. Tipping the scales further is the unfortunate accident to their director, which results in the loss of their sponsorship money.
That sets the ball rolling. Consisting largely of non-professional actors, the cast commanded an exquisite composition of chemistry. The merry lot have to put on braver faces than the ones they do onstage, as they resort to various ways to make ends meet. One would paint pariah dogs with watercolour to pass them off as expensive breeds for sale. Another rears fighter cocks for competition and gambles off his wife's Visa application money.
However it's not all about the provincial poverty, which would have otherwise placed this movie neatly into the despairing Oriental films that never fall far from the theme. There is a quiet window of redundancy and nostalgia, as one troupe member keeps afloat due to his in-laws' money, yet finds no meaning to his existence and another, who prospered into a big name by leaving for the city, yet returns because of a lover colleague and other old time sentiments within the troupe.
Quaint as it is, the story is tight, going for mileage in every scene. It isn't a sweet, coming- of-age tale that kicks up all that together-forever stuff we are used to in sports dramas. Instead, "One Foot" stays well grounded to the basic bothers of living a performer's life, yet gives a realistic outlook on how things can be better without it getting worse again.
The final scene, reminiscent of Truffaut's "The 400 Blows", freezes the continuity of life as poignantly as possible for a movie with such modest ambitions. "One Foot" gets its deserved two thumbs up. It's the kind of show that you need to walk away from and never look back, but without ever forgetting.
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