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Monday, January 16, 2012

LAO JING / OLD WELL (1986)

Even avid followers of Mainland Chinese cinema may be surprised to find Yimou Zhang as both co-star & cinematographer in this rural drama made a year before RED SORGHUM, his first film as director. Helmed by Tian-Ming Wu in a more naturalistic style than Yimou’s, the film retains some of the old communist ‘group think’ dramatics even when it tweaks a couple of Party Line officials who try to stop a night’s entertainment from a group of blind musicians. The public storyline deals with the restoration of the local well in a water-starved town. (The water supply is so bad that neighboring villages riot over dry wells.) And the private story is all about sexual jealousy between Yimou, who has married, and his assistant, who’s an ex-girlfriend. A cave-in during the dig tests everyone to the max, but Tian-Ming doesn’t wallow in the possibilities. In fact, the script leapfrogs over expected climaxes to spend more time showing life in town. It’s not always dramatically satisfying, but it’s consistently interesting even in a sub-par DVD edition that tends to lose detail in dark quarters . . . like when you’re down in a well!

DOUBLE-BILL: A more recent Chinese film, MANG JING (BLIND SHAFT)/’03, also takes us below ground. Not in search of water, but for coal, minerals & a deadly con game of murder & insurance scams. It’s Crony Capitalism run amuck in Communist China.

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