‘SI­LENCE' PROVES GOLDEN

浮华散尽:两部以内蒙古为背景的“新独立电影”

The World of Chinese - - Editor’s Letter - BY LIU JUE (刘珏)

In the 90s, an In­ner Mon­go­lia min­ing boom and bust made for­tunes and crushed dreams. Wrathof­si­lence­and Old­beast, both re­cent re­leases by In­ner Mon­go­lian di­rec­tors, mix sus­pense­ful plots and com­plex char­ac­ters with so­cial com­men­tary on the boom econ­omy's lin­ger­ing ef­fects

In the bar­ren moun­tains of In­ner Mon­go­lia, Zhang Baom­ing (Song Yang) searches high and low for a son who went miss­ing while herd­ing sheep. Mean­while, the peace back in his re­mote vil­lage is bro­ken when a big min­ing com­pany ar­rives with ex­plo­sives, ex­ca­va­tors, and trucks—along with pol­lu­tion, dis­ease, and vi­o­lence.

Wrath of Si­lence is di­rec­tor Xin Yukun’s sec­ond crime mys­tery. The film has so far gained 50 mil­lion RMB at the box of­fice. It’s fairly hum­ble com­pared to big-bud­get films, but still a mi­nor suc­cess among a genre that Pek­ing Univer­sity scholar Li Yang calls “new independent films”—movies that es­chews main­stream po­lit­i­cal opin­ion with­out ac­tively re­belling. It is an emerg­ing genre that’s rel­a­tively free from com­mer­cial in­flu­ence, but still has mar­ket ap­peal.

Like Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues (2015) and Zhang Dalei’s The Sum­mer is Gone (2016), Wrath dis­plays strong per­sonal char­ac­ter­is­tics of the di­rec­tor. Born in Bao­tou, In­ner Mon­go­lia’s big­gest in­dus­trial city, known for its pro­duc­tion of steel and rare-earth met­als, 34-year-old Xin based the story on the min­ing rush in his

home­town in early 2000s.

In re­al­ity, the en­tire au­tonomous re­gion ex­pe­ri­enced rapid eco­nomic growth; its GPD growth rate ranked num­ber one in the en­tire coun­try for eight con­sec­u­tive years, from 2002 to 2009, all while heav­ily de­pen­dent on the min­ing of rich nat­u­ral re­sources such as coal. How­ever, this came at an enor­mous cost to the en­vi­ron­ment and health of lo­cal peo­ple. A few who had the right con­nec­tions got rich overnight, of­ten only to fall quickly and hard.

But Wrath is no art­house so­cial cri­tique—it’s a riv­et­ing plot-driven story with twists and turns, as well as mem­o­rable char­ac­ters. The silent but hot-tem­pered Zhang, a grass­roots pro­tag­o­nist who lost half his tongue in a fight, is drawn into a dif­fer­ent world when min­ing boss Chang Wan­nian (Jiang Wu) takes a sud­den in­ter­est in him.

In spite of his taste for tai­lored Bri­tish suits, curly hair­pieces, and archery, Chang’s habits of wear­ing black cloth shoes and eat­ing lamb hot pot ev­ery night hint at hum­bler ori­gins. Chang’s lawyer Wei Wen­jie (Yuan Wenkang) is the bridge be­tween these two char­ac­ters and their worlds—when Wei’s daugh­ter also goes miss­ing, he and Zhang form an al­liance to look for their chil­dren.

Minute clues and de­tails make it an in­trigu­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for view­ers to try and de­code the mys­tery and read more into the story. Take the three char­ac­ters’ ve­hi­cles and plate num­bers, for in­stance: Chang’s Land Rover starts with A, Wei’s sedan starts with B, while Zhang’s mo­tor­cy­cle starts with C—a not-so­sub­tle clas­si­fi­ca­tion of their re­spec­tive so­cioe­co­nomic sta­tus. With this metaphor, the film asks: Will the mid­dle class work with the rich or the poor? And who shares mu­tual in­ter­ests, with whom?

A fan of Christopher Nolan, Xin tells his story like a draw­ing; the truth is out­lined and de­vel­oped stroke by stroke. View­ers have a clear pic­ture at the end, but there’s still space left for the imag­i­na­tion.

With its more re­al­is­tic treat­ment of a sim­i­lar set­ting, Old Beast, the big-screen de­but of fel­low In­ner Mon­go­lian di­rec­tor Zhou Ziyang, cap­tures the af­ter­math of an un­healthily brief re­gional eco­nomic boom. Win­ner of Best Orig­i­nal Script at the 2017 Golden Horse Awards, the film was originally ti­tled Old Bas­tard and is set in Or­dos, the coal- min­ing boom­town bet­ter known as China’s most in­fa­mous “ghost city.”

The pro­tag­o­nist Old Yang (Tu­men) is a char­ac­ter au­di­ences love to hate. Hav­ing gone bank­rupt when the bub­ble burst, most likely due to giv­ing un­der­ground loans to mine bosses and real es­tate de­vel­op­ers, Yang still dreams of a come­back and is full of mad­cap ideas, such as run­ning theme restau­rants (“alien yurts”).

Mean­while, he has kept up his ex­trav­a­gant spend­ing habits, win­ing and din­ing, gam­bling, ly­ing, cheat­ing, and even steal­ing the money that his chil­dren raised for his wife to have life­sav­ing surgery. So ir­re­spon­si­ble is Old Yang that, at one point, his fam­ily ties him up to force the money out of him.

Yet, as the story un­folds, the char­ac­ter of Yang be­comes fleshed out: full of

short­com­ings—ar­ro­gant, stub­born, self­ish—yet not with­out hu­man­ity, as he tries to make amends and en­dures hu­mil­i­a­tion, re­jec­tion, and phys­i­cal harm. Many lo­cals can prob­a­bly em­pathize with Yang’s ex­pe­ri­ence of down­fall, an eco­nomic boom-and-bust that no doubt caused psy­cho­log­i­cal is­sues and up­set fam­ily dy­nam­ics. The movie it­self was in­spired by a lo­cal head­line—an old man kid­napped by his own son over a fam­ily fi­nan­cial dis­pute.

The 58-year-old Ewenki ac­tor Tu­men, also from In­ner Mon­go­lia, won the Golden Horse Best Ac­tor Award for his por­trayal of Yang. Pre­vi­ously type­cast in “prairie khan” roles as con­querors and gen­er­als (he played Genghis Khan twice), Tu­men’s break­through was 2015’s A Sim­ple Good­bye, in which he played a stub­born fa­ther re­con­nect­ing with his daugh­ter as he’s dy­ing of cancer, a sce­nario that In­ner Mon­go­lian di­rec­tor De­gena Yun adapted from her own life. Tu­men’s own ca­reer path seems to echo the con­trast­ing themes of tough­ness and fragility in Old Beast.

The im­pact of a re­gional econ­omy’s rise and fall are not isolated in­ci­dents, but a larger mosaic of so­cial is­sues and hu­man re­ac­tions. Both Wrath of Si­lence and Old Beast are able to speak to a larger au­di­ence in their own ways, while pre­serv­ing a snap­shot of a tur­bu­lent time in In­ner Mon­go­lia.

Zhang (Song Yang) con­fronts sev­eral thugs sent by a big min­ing com­pany, sens­ing his son's dis­ap­pear­ance may have some­thing to do with them

Old Yang (Tu­men) mo­tors past a back­ground of still-empty apart­ment build­ings and con­struc­tion sites in Or­dos— rem­nants of the burst bub­ble of the “ghost city”phe­nom­e­non

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