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There were two shorts before the feature presentation.
"The Trains" by Hirata Takahiro was plain old nerdy fun. There were rail car sections making that *clunk-clunk* running over track connections. Different size cars, sometimes half a car, a quarter of a car and a little slice of a car, would make different clunking pitches. He would make them run faster or slower over the tracks. Those would form the notes to songs.
He did Jingle Bells, If You're Happy and You Know It, Row Row Row Your Boat with two tracks of cars going in opposite directions for the canon. It starts slow enough to not quite be recognizable, but as it picks up speed and you realize what it is, it's the most hilarious thing. We laughed so hard.
"Z Reactor" by Goshima Kazuhiro was annoying. A bunch of stills are shown in sequence to a strange distortion of something that sounded like a camera going *k-ch* *k-ch* *k-ch* *ththththththlllt*. Each one was the same shot with only a slight difference in position. There was a slow sequence and a fast sequence. The net effect was that it made the stills look three dimensional.
He took pictures of many different places and scenes of city life in Japan. Day and night shots.
It was boring as all hell. Okay, the first few were interesting. An exterior of an abandoned building. A tree overlooking a small courtyard. People walking in the lobby of a train station. A busy intersection. Then it got boring and repetitive as the subsequent scenes were very similar, if not, exactly the same in nature. Even </a></b></a> who loves Japan, loves looking at anything that reminds him of his time there, and inherited his Grandfather's odd quirk of enjoying sitting somewhere and watching people buzzing around, going about their daily business... even he was bored, annoyed and thought it was pointless.
Silly thing before I begin: it occurred to me that the Beijing dialect sounds a lot like Pirate Speak. It's Talk Like A Pirate Day every day in Beijing =D Arrrr!! Arrr, arrr, arrr... XD XD
Tong's girlfriend is abducted. He hires Detective Sun who isn't really a member of the police. He's in the private investigation business. There are two others on the team that's supposed to be helping the kidnap case. Only, they don't say much or help much.
The kidnappers send them on this wild goose chase all over Beijing from one public phone in one district to another.
There's a very non-chalant attitude towards the whole situation from Det. Sun and his posse that rubs off on Tong after a while. They say things like, "well, if you never intended to marry her, then it doesn't matter if she's never found." and "You're not her husband, so your responsibility to her isn't all that great." and "Well, as long as she's still alive, there's nothing to worry about. We can wait until tomorrow."
And they actually said that, "she can be tortured, gang raped, it doesn't matter. As long as she's alive, we'll just wait it out."
Finally, they go to a fortune teller who basically says nothing. "She's alive and she'll come back to you. But you'll have to spend a bit of money. How much money will be up to you. How much does she mean to you?" Well, DUH.
They somehow meet up with a van that was supposedly the kidnappers and manage to take the driver into custody. The two others fled on foot. They beat up the driver to try to get info out of him, but in the end, he was really just the driver and didn't know anything.
Intermingled with those scenes are the scenes of two girls locked in a large apartment... insanely large, now that I think about it. They take turns with the customers. Middle-aged to elderly men who pay for massages and anything else they want with these girls. It's implied, but never stated that one of those two girls could have been the abducted girlfriend.
The women in the apartment never speak. The only communication between them was when one of them ripped out a page from her datebook, wrote "I'm scared" and gingerly passed it to the other only to have it completely ignored. As if she was afraid to even be caught communicating with the other.
One of them has clearly been there for quite some time and is something of a seasoned pro. She knows which men she could ignore. It was so funny to watch her roll up her eyes at this one scrawny guy. In the shower, he's standing under the running water staring at her in a red bikini. She's standing on the other side of the shower stall holding the bar of soap with her arms crossed. Suddenly she throws the soap at him. And in the massage room, she sat on the massage table with her back to him and wouldn't touch him or look at him. He ended up jacking himself off staring at her back.
That had to be the funniest thing I've ever seen. The rest of the audience was giggling at it as well. And you know we're all cheering for her.
But she also knew which men had to have their way and she clearly knew the terrible consequences of refusing them. The other girl was newer and refused to pleasure one of the men who came in. She went in, gently pushed the newer girl out of the way and offered herself instead. I'm not sure if that was a bit of self-sacrifice and done for the sake of trying to help the other girl or if that was self-preservation. She didn't want to be beaten and raped for an unhappy client. Probably both.
She's the one who ignored the other girl's handwritten note. She's worn down into resignation at the situation. She just sits there and smokes. You know that she's incredibly ashamed of what's happening to them, but at the same time, she's shunning someone who is suffering the same fate as she is.
They have no voice. They suffer in silence. No one knows about them. They can't even talk to each other about it. Those who care about them don't have the ability to get them out. Those who might have the ability to help them, don't care.
Here's a bit of really gross irony for you. The two girls had small radios. They'd tune it into one of the broadcasting stations in Beijing. One of them had a female DJ who was hosting the late night music broadcast. In her wistful, but optimistic cheerful voice, she said things like, "when you're feeling like everything is hopeless and your world is falling apart, you need to take heart, be strong and accept your fate"...
Pan Jianlin is new at this filmmaking thing. There were some awkward moments in GMB, yes.
He was in attendance at tonight's showing. We had a Q&A period at the end. He made this film based on personal experience. He knew a girl who was kidnapped this way. I can't remember if it was his girlfriend or if it was just a friend.
He was asked to make some introductory remarks before the film started as well. In an apologetic tone, he said that he was not satisfied with the result, for everyone to please view it with a critical eye and that he would value all feedback. Those are obligatory Chinese self-deprecating remarks. =) They're not meant as severely as they sound. It's as natural as saying, "thank you for coming, please enjoy the show."
At the end, he was asked how he was not satisfied with it and what he would do differently. Oh, the cultural misunderstanding was almost painful to me. He does not really believe that his film is bad. If he really thought it was that bad, he would never have entered it into an international film festival. If it really were bad, it would not be one of the top contenders for the Dragons & Tigers Award.
Anyway, he answered that it was his first film published overseas, he didn't have any training, he just went ahead and made something. The truth is, there are some very sophisticated story-telling elements in there. As for the crazy camera work, well, some of Hollywood's most celebrated directors have used some pretty crazy camera work too.
There was a big long list of credits at the end. They tried very hard and they did very very well.
He was asked point blank what was his purpose of making this film, what message was he trying to show? He held his ground that he wanted to tell the story. He's seen and heard a lot of terrible things. There's a story to be told and he says he just wants to tell the story.
I don't know that I entirely buy that. There are too many things that were put in on purpose, some of which had about the subtlety of a jackhammer. It's pretty clear to me that the title "Good Morning Beijing" means "wake up call" and it was trying to bring certain issues to light.
Now I want to see his other work, aptly named "The Bride" =) In a conversation with him, he said he had lots of ideas for future films, including the story of a drug addict mother with a 3 year old. The woman was arrested and forced to undergo rehab. Just before she was taken into custody, she begged the authorities to take care of her 3 year old daughter. 20 days later, the little girl was found dead in her apartment. The police station was a mere 100 metres away. The building was full of neighbours. And no one knew or cared.
It sounds to me like Pan Jianlin is shaping up to do social commentary. The people who fall through the cracks. I look forward to seeing his work next year.