Za Pan Guan
Performed by Wang Chunhai See more »
Four independent stories failing to involve, and failing as social commentary too. Serves very well as guided tour through contemporary China
I saw this film at the Ghent (Belgium) film festival 2013, where it was selected as part of the official Competition. Technically there was nothing wrong with it: shot beautifully, and acted splendidly. However, I could derive no underlying theme other than the under-achievers who were the respective main characters in the four loosely connected stories. Was there otherwise something in common, apart from the fact that all four stories ended in unmitigated violence?? The only shooting that was justified, occurred in the beginning of the story where one motor cyclist was threatened by three men armed with axes, but it was just an isolated incident without a preceding story to explain. All other shooters whose history we followed later on, may have considered themselves above the law, justified in killing around for a just cause. But I did not get their ulterior motives, at least not as being strong enough to arrive at what they did.
The festival website mentioned "underclass rage" as binding theme, but that is not sufficient for me. The stories in itself are well told and technically flawless, but one keeps wondering all the time what's the point in this bloodshed. It may be considered social commentary, but it lacks constructive ideas or novel insights. On the positive side, we from outside China get a fresh view on life in China as it is nowadays, giving us the chance to see that it does not look much different when looking from the outside. The landscapes and the cities could have been European or American, if we disregard the obvious fact that all the people there look Chinese. But I don't think a guided tour was the ultimate purpose of the film makers.
Speaking of Chinese looks: It was a nice touch that we were allowed to recognize the respective main characters throughout "their" story, this usually being rather difficult for us Europeans, having great problems telling Chinese (and Japanese, for that matter) apart; "they all look alike" is a common statement. In this movie we always had a particular distinguishing mark to assist us in following the main character. I'm not sure it was a deliberate setup by the film makers, to facilitate international distribution, but anyway it helped very much.
All in all, this film falls short in delivering the obviously intended message that some people cannot stand being ignored or neglected for too long a time, and thus are bound to eventually "explode" in some way. Another thing that also did not work out, was involving me in the main characters, who seemed to me coming from a different planet and acting illogically. On the other hand, we got a nice view on contemporary China, far away from the touristic sightseeing routes, a seldom chance that we otherwise don't get easily. Very well acted and shot as well. All things considered, I scored a 3 (average) for the audience award when leaving the theater. This film ranked 39th for the audience award, score 3.73 out of 5. And the international jury awarded it for "its musical choice and the combination of traditional and contemporary music".
ADDENDUM as of December 2013: I saw this movie twice by accident, while it was programmed as part of the Tiger Friends Preview Event prior to the 2014 International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR). Which movie would be screened during this event, was kept secret until the last minute. When it became clear what was about to happen, I did not run away however. It happened to me before that a repeated viewing worked very well to grasp things missed the first time. But alas, in this case it merely amplified my former conclusions. The only change in appreciation was that I liked the first story better than previously. On the other hand, knowing beforehand what was going to happen, the other three stories exposed more inconsistencies than I was aware of the first time. Anyway, the whole experience was not boring, and it still offers a nice view on contemporary China, but that is all there is.
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