From Chicago to New York City, "Disorder" has film critics dancing in the streets.
This Friday at 7pm, Huang Weikai’s cinematic hurricane Disorder storms back into New York City, screening at the Museum of Chinese in the Americas in Chinatown as part of MoCA’s Chinese Cinema Club. Film programmer, lecturer and writer Chi-hui Yang will be on hand to discuss the film following the screening, with dGenerate’s Kevin B. Lee moderating.
Earlier in the summer, the film screened at the Nightingale in Chicago riding a wave of strong reviews from area critics. Here’s a sampling:
Ray Pride, New City:
Of the 300 or so movies I saw in 2010, partly on the weekly beat but also at festivals and for juries, one entry’s sheer strangeness and immediacy took me more by surprise than any other film or video. The movie’s even more headlong than this paragraph, hyperbole for the hypnotic: Huang Weikai’s fifty-eight-minute “Disorder,” is a black-and-white shot-on-video portrait of urban Guangzhou, but it’s also a sustained fury of delirium. Tossed into a maelstrom of deracinated images from Huang’s native province, we’re left adrift and agog at brief scenes of traffic jams, floods, accidents, police violence, fools winding through lanes of heavy traffic, and so many, many farm animals gone astray. Hot Docs programmer Sean Farnel went beyond considering “Disorder” a “city symphony,” saying it’s set in “Chris Marker-ville,” and Huang’s film is indeed an act of sustained bricolage, essaying contemporary China through a reported 1,000 hours of footage from news shooters with greater-than-average access to strange goings-on, creating an eruptive, hallucinatory landscape, resisting narrative, that is both tactile and otherworldly. It may be the first great film of the twenty-second century.
Jason Halprin, Cine-file:
Part cinema verité, part city symphony, part essay on humans living in an urban reality, and part celebration of digital egalitarianism, Huang’s film is surprisingly cohesive and concise in it’s focus. Casting the city of Guangzhou (the least famous city of 10 million people in the world) as the dominant manipulator of human behavior, the filmmaker allows the viewer to make connections between the chaotic behavior of a scam artist pretending to be hit by a car, a group of men swimming in protest of an oppressive government, a black market dealer of bear paws and frozen anteaters, and countless other actual occurrences that are at once absurd and commonplace. Compiled from what is purported to be over 1000 hours of footage shot by amateur videographers, DISORDER is a seesaw between anxiety and gleeful wonderment. The sequences are bridged by asynchronous sound, bleeding from one event to the next, and the most common through-line is a never-ending parade of apathetic authority figures. “It will lead to paperwork, we have bigger problems” would be an apt alternate title for this modern masterpiece, if that didn’t sidestep the greater argument being made here. By shedding light on the magnificent number of situations people get into for which there is no logical resolution, Huang renders these occurrences mundane. The man seeking relief from a health inspector for the roach in his meal is just as crazy as the man threatening to jump of a bridge unless the police help him get relief (from what we never really know). Life as a system of orderly events is not just an illusion, but is the most illogical thought of all.
A.A. Dowd gave it a “highly recommended” rating in Time Out Chicago. On his own blog Wild Lines he writes:
A fire hydrant erupts like a geyser, a torrent of water reaching for the heavens, in the first scene – the first shot, really – of Weikai Huang’s Disorder (2009, 58mins). It’s a symbolically apt opening to a film about a city on the verge of explosion. What follows is an hour of madness in the streets. A shirtless man wanders through a busy intersection, holding up traffic. Another threatens to leap from a high bridge to his death. There are pigs and alligators and anteaters, visiting dignitaries swimming through polluted waters, and, finally, frazzled police officers lashing out at unarmed civilians.
Disorder gets at the simmering discontent, the throbbing anger and frustration, of metropolitan life – that sense, on a hot afternoon or an endless evening, that a whole city might just lose its mind. The film, one of two terrific “city symphonies” screening in Chicago over the next week, is set in Guangzhou. Though it would be unfair to suggest that its particular backdrop is irrelevant – among other things, this is a microcosmic portrait of contemporary, overcrowded China – the movie’s vision of urban chaos speaks to anyone who’s spent time living in the shadow of glass and steel, among a few million strangers. Composed entirely of black-and-white vérité footage, Disorder was assembled from at least ten different sources, each an on-the-fly recording of some disruptive public outburst. It’s hard to believe, given the film’s unified aesthetic, that these amateur documentarians were working independent of each other. Did Huang distribute cameras to different collaborators and encourage them to keep their eyes peeled for crazy shit going down? Did he issue a public call for footage and use the best materials he received? I don’t know the complete story of the film’s construction. What’s nifty and rather ingenious about Disorder is the way that Huang has edited these separate incidents into a kind of condensed collage of inner-city catastrophe, one that implies, through shrewd cross-cutting, an isolated time frame. Though the events surely happened on completely different days, the filmmaker has created the fascinating illusion of one uninterrupted, 24-hour shitstorm. Watching Huang’s nervy, entrancing Frankenstein-monster creation, I thought often of Do the Right Thing, another movie about a community tearing apart at the seams. Of course, that rumble in the jungle spoke to a more specific source of neighborly tension; Disorder never theorizes about the cause of its various eruptions and disruptions. (Notably, there’s no interviews, no onscreen text or offscreen narration – no sense, beyond the very precise editing choices and a percussive, intermittent, possibly diagetic score, that this is anything but a dispassionately reproduced collection of filmed events.) If there is a thematic agenda at play here, I’m not so sure it’s the one that Huang intended. Via their involvement in nearly all of the featured incidents, law enforcement officers become the default protagonists of Disorder’s ensemble “narrative.” We see them patiently settle disputes, talk sense into crazed vagrants, try to maintain order in a city that seems to be spiraling out of control. Is it an accident that Huang ends the film with a instance of police violence, as though it were a culmination and not just another oddball occurrence? Is it unreasonable to suggest that the film, intentionally or not, is expressing a measure of empathy for these enraged public servants? This, Disorder seems to be saying, is what happens when you try to be an officer of the peace in a city on the brink of breakdown. You’ll lose your cool too, if not your sanity.