Critic Nelson Kim of Hammer to Nail can definitely be considered an enthusiast of Chinese indie cinema, judging from a couple of recent reviews. In anticipation of NYC area screenings of two of our films, The Other Half (at the China Institute and Film Society of Lincoln Center) and Super, Girls! (at BAM), Kim reviewed both films. Here’s a choice excerpt from each:
The Other Half
Ying’s style offers a rich and fascinating combination of different modes, different registers: on one level, he’s operating as a journalist or documentarian, reporting on what he observes around him, from everyday domestic dissatisfaction to wider forms of political, economic, and cultural malaise (environmental degradation plays a major part in the storyline), while his elliptical approach to narrative and his highly expressive long-take technique place him in the tradition of contemporary art-house filmmaking, especially his fellow Sino-cineastes Hou Hsiao-hsien and Jia Zhang-khe. But unlike those two masters, Ying seems to be reaching for a more emotionally direct and accessible mode of address. In The Other Half he gives us suspense-building subplots, sudden dramatic reversals, surprise revelations, and outbursts of rage, regret, and yearning. This is the stuff of mainstream melodrama, and Ying’s remarkable facility at weaving such elements into what’s otherwise a reserved, carefully modulated mood piece suggests that he’s aiming for a fusion of art-film formal rigor and audience-friendly entertainment. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but viewers are advised to start paying attention – after only two films, Ying has already passed beyond the merely “promising” phase; there are few young filmmakers anywhere in the world whose next work I’m more eager to see.
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It’s been said that the USA is both the youngest of the great world powers, and also, paradoxically, the oldest, since we were the first to experience so many innovations of modern life. What comes through most clearly in Super, Girls! is its portrait of a very old culture rushing headlong into the hyper-capitalist future, in which business values trump all others, individualism clashes with traditional ideals of collectivism and community, and self-promotion lays the smackdown on Confucian humility. When the national finalists gather onstage to sing the show’s theme song, we could be listening to an American pop anthem, but really, it’s a lyrical expression of a dream that has long outgrown its Hollywood and Broadway origins and taken over the world: I’m empowered by joy. I shine like no other. Every caring eye sees my growth. Although Super, Girls! structures itself via the timeline provided by the rounds of competition, Jian doesn’t push things too hard – he understands there’s no need to hype up the suspense unnecessarily. Some contestants win, some lose, some surrender their hopes while others vow to try again another day. But the real drama here, the heart of the film’s appeal, is the view it provides of an entire nation in the grip of massive, all-encompassing change.
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