Monday, 15 December 2014 16:34

A pantomime of a war film: 'Devils on the Doorstep' Review


In a phrase: A pantomime until the end, at which point it rushes to satisfy nationalistic appetites.

(Spoilers below)

This film is set in a small Chinese town called Guajia (hang up armor) under Japanese occupation during the second world war.


Thursday, 11 December 2014 17:46

A Touch of Sin Review

 A Touch of Sin is a film by Jia Zhangke (賈樟柯). I've only seen Platform (《站台》) by him before, so am unfamiliar with the majority of his work. The Chinese title of the film differs from the English title, in that the Chinese means literally, "fate appointed by the heavens," whereas the English title has a more Christian ring to it, although I read that it is apparently a nod to the English title of a martial arts film called A Touch of Zen (《俠女》).


Wednesday, 05 December 2012 14:28

Mental Difference?

This month, eRenlai is focusing on the stigma surrounding mental health and mental disorders. For this purpose we've coined the term "mental difference" in the hope that this will encourage our readers to view the people around them not in terms of the binaries sick/well abnormal/normal insane/sane, but rather to approach everyone in the world with an open mind as to the way their mind functions and their personality traits, regardless of their mental health issues or lack thereof, or their deviation from our perception of the normal.

First we have two views from psychiatrists: the first gives us his view on what is normal, with an interview with Dr Wu Yuquan, the second is an interview concerning the effects of illegal and legal highs on the mind and body. Then Daniel reviews Anita and Shower, the two films cast mental disability in a more positive light. Paul Farrelly also has a film review for us, which deals with Reunion, a film about a teacher who quits to look after mentally disabled children and encounters resistance from the community, featuring two Taiwanese actors who later transitioned into careers in the spiritual world. Finally we have a short interview with Father Giuseppe Didone, he talks about his experience in Taiwan struggling to convince parents to overcome the stigma attached to mentally disabled children and get help for children in dire need of it, he also reflects on a shift in attitude from when he founded the school in the 1980s to the present day.


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

Next stop on the Denim Express … Struggletown

On a recent long distance train trip in China, a budding entrepreneur and proud patriot asked me if my country had any factories.

“Sure”, I said, “we’ve got a few, but not as many as China does”.

 

“That’s right!” he quickly retorted.

 

“Because of OUR factories YOU have a good lifestyle and WE have a lot of hardship!”

 

He expressed these views very forthrightly and had no doubt about whose favour the Chinese balance of trade was in.  Perhaps my new friend’s family had felt some strain from China’s rapid industrialisation.  After all, he was making a 15 hour train journey to return home to his young family after working in Beijing.

 

Last Train Home screened at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung and gave me a new perspective on my earlier encounter on the train.  The cinema was almost full and arriving late, I had to find a seat in the front row.  Seated behind me were a bunch of 10 year olds, probably attending as part of a school excursion.  To begin with they were merrily chatting away, no doubt wishing they were watching a cartoon, and oblivious to the projections of the grim cityscapes of China’s south-eastern megacities.  But it didn’t take too long for them to be drawn into the story, wide-eyed and silently absorbed by the unfolding tragedy.

 

Presenting the tale of the Zhang family – parents toiling in a jeans factory in Guangdong, kids raised by their grandparents in rural Sichuan – Last Train Home is a bleak look at life in modern China.  As the story develops over 6 years, we see the characters evolve against the dual backdrops of the urban and the rural: sewing machines and tiny bedrooms alternating with cornfields and crumbling and damp farmhouses.

 

The story is very engaging, despite some of the dialogue appearing a bit too staged.  Flashes of brutality alternate with misguided optimism, all the while dreams are torn apart and the scraps reshaped, like denim off-cuts salvaged from the factory floor and haphazardly stitched together into something new.

 

The cinematography is artful throughout, generating a strong sense of place. The scenes at Guangzhou train station during the Chinse New Year are particularly powerful. We see hordes of travellers stranded as the rail grid is thrown into turmoil by inclement weather, progressively getting anxious as the narrow window of time they have to return to their hometowns grows ever smaller.  The claustrophobia of the crammed station and tension of the travellers as they jostle for space is palpable.

 

Last Train Home is a gruelling look at the flipside of China’s year on year 10% economic growth.  The Zhang family are just some of the many millions manning the machines that drive China’s economic juggernaut.  At times harrowing, this is a film that will appeal to anyone seeking an alternative perspective on China’s economic miracle.


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