China's New City Symphonies

A more sardonic analysis of domestic discord, Mr. Zhao (1998) opens with a Shanghai factory worker catching her husband—the title character—with his lover. Two protracted, momentous scenes follow: First Zhao's wife tearfully confronts him about the affair; then his mistress breaks the news that she's pregnant. These two-hander sequences are thrillingly elastic and spontaneous, tearing through a range of emotions with remarkable fluidity. The partly improvised directorial debut of cinematographer Lu Yue (an erstwhile Zhang Yimou collaborator) flags somewhat as it picks up the pieces from its brilliant, explosive opening third, but what the remainder lacks in formal elegance, it makes up for with psychological acuity.

The brazenly style-driven Lunar Eclipse (1999) unavoidably evokes the mainland's most glamorous pop export to date, Lou Ye's Suzhou River. Wang Quanan's debut feature is another slick, slippery loop-the-loop narrative haunted by female doppelgängers (Vertigo must be a staple at the Beijing Film Academy). Undernourished scenario notwithstanding, it manages to work up an impressive head of steam simply via chronology-upsetting fillips and oddball noir variations.

Steal this movie: Zu Bai To and Wang Hongwei in Xiao Wu.
photo: The Film Society of Lincoln Center
Steal this movie: Zu Bai To and Wang Hongwei in Xiao Wu.


The Urban Generation: Chinese Cinema in Transformation
Walter Reade
February 23 through March 8

Beijing Underground
Screening Room
March 2 through 8

A useful supplement to the Walter Reade's "Urban Generation" series, the Screening Room's "Beijing Underground" program offers six early examples of independent Chinese film, two apiece from three of the most fest-lauded Sixth Generation directors. He Jianjun's Postman screens along with his first film, the expressionist fever dream Red Beads (1993). Wang Xiaoshuai (whose new Berlin entry, Beijing Bicycle, has just been picked up by Sony Pictures Classics) had to take a pseudonymous credit ("Wu Ming," or "no name") for his ethnographic tour of Beijing bohemia, Frozen (1996), in which a performance artist stages his own suicide. Wang's first feature, The Days (1993), is the best film here—a nouvelle-vague-inflected anatomy of an entropic romance between two struggling painters. Zhang Yuan's chamber piece East Palace West Palace recounts the sexually loaded mind games that transpire between a young gay writer and his policeman captor over the course of a night. His most notorious film is paired with his most iconic, Beijing Bastards (1993)—a showcase for pop star Cui Jian and a rough-hewn, free-form sketch of boozing, brawling, and rock-and-rolling commonly billed as China's first underground movie.

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