Michael Haneke's Funny Games: One-Trick Phony

Blind Mountain's Chinese torture trumps Haneke's tortured antics

Li Yang's follow-up to his 2003 Blind Shaft (a shockingly direct account of greed and murder in China's illegal coal mines) exhibits a similar documentary subtext and "blind" narrative force, detailing the spectacle of a spirited, pretty college student (Huang Lu) abducted and sold as a bride to a troglodyte husband, then held as a virtual prisoner in a remote Shanxi village. "This can't be happening," Xuemei wails, waking from a drugged sleep to find her duplicitous traveling companions gone and ID vanished, leaving the viewer to ponder the enormity of losing one's identity in China—a land where government authority appears helpless, and bad luck rules. Blind Mountain forces its way through numerous illogicalities and several plot lapses to a violently abrupt ending that brought down the house at the movie's Cannes press screening last May.

Although Li evidently made a number of cuts before Blind Mountain's international premiere, the movie manages to land its share of eye-blackening blows. Rural medics are seen demanding payment up front before attending to a dying patient. The ruggedly beautiful, indifferent landscape cares more about Xuemei's plight than do the police. The point is made: Although the movie is strategically set in the early '90s, slavery has hardly been eradicated in China. (Barely a month after the movie's Cannes premiere, another Shanxi scandal erupted with news that hundreds of migrant workers and children had been kidnapped for forced labor in the local brickworks.) A colleague dismissed Blind Mountain as a heavy-handed social-problem film; the Chinese government had its own issues.

A nice lady (Naomi Watts) and her caddies (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet)
Nicole Rivelli
A nice lady (Naomi Watts) and her caddies (Michael Pitt and Brady Corbet)

Details

Funny Games
Written and directed by Michael Haneke
Warner Independent
Opens March 14

Blind Mountain
Written and directed by Li Yang
Kino International
March 12 through 25, Film Forum

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Like Ang Lee's Lust, Caution, which opened in China around the same time, Blind Mountain exists in both international and domestic versions. Not surprisingly, local critics received it as a foreign film. At least one compared the movie to Dogville—although Deliverance might be a better analogue in its spectacle of a city mouse abused by backwoods hillbillies. Another reviewer gave thanks to the censors for the modified positive ending. As Michael Haneke might tell you, catharsis is strictly for export.

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