Bi Gan (China, 1989), also a poet and a photographer,
debuted with the short black-and-white film Diamond Sutra (2012), aka
The Poet and Singer.
Kaili Blues (2015) feels like a meditation a` la
Theodoros Angelopulos .
The protagonist is a man with multiple missions: to rescue his nephew,
to deliver mementos to the lover of his old female business partner,
to find musicians who can still play traditional folk music,
and perhaps to find someone who wants to listen to his story.
His actions are frequently interrupted by poems, and are introduced by
Buddha's "Diamond Sutra".
The plot is cryptic and confused, to say the least, mixing the linear story
of a journey to the protagonist's hometown with legends
of wildmen, views of majestic natural landscapes, a quasi-documentary
about the humble lifestyle of a rural village, slow train rides, dreams,
and clocks (the recurring motif of the film).
The camera wanders increasingly at will, eventually indulging in a
41-minute unbroken shot through the narrow streets of a mountain village,
following characters up and down the stairs of a village,
taking detours into a tailor's shop and a hairdresser shop,
and even a boat ride. We are aware of the camera's existence because
at one point the camera leaves the motorcycle that is driving around a
hairpin, runs down a narrow staircase and catches up with the motorcycle
one street down.
Chen is a doctor (probably not a trained one) who runs a shabby clinic
with an elderly female doctor in a village called Kaili where the electricity
can never be taken for granted. The scene is interrupted to show us Buddha's
"Diamond Sutra". Chen is also an amateur poem and reads his poems throughout
the film. A TV broadcast talks about wildmen wreaking havoc in the region.
Chen visits his nephew Weiwei, whom his father has locked at home. Chen
opens the lock and takes the child with him. They confront Weiwei's father,
who is playing cards with friends and clearly neglects his son. Chen heard
that this brother (nicknamed Crazy Face) wants to move elsewhere and offers to keep Weiwei with him.
Chen dreams his mother, while his elderly coworker dreams of the lover she
lost in the Cultural Revolution. She knows that he is alive and lives in
a nearby village (which seems to be Chen's hometown) but hasn't had a chance
to see him again in all those years. Weiwei draws a clock on the wall of
his home. The home is a humble building with a giant window on the railway.
A long train goes by just outside the window. The TV broadcast again talks
about wildmen. Chen stops his motorcycle into a tunnel. We finally see the
titles of the film. Chen rides his motorcycle up a mountain road.
He visits his mother's grave and burns money on it.
Then he rides back into town and looks for his brother. His brother changed
the tombstone without asking his opinion. His brother has not forgiven
Chen for spending time in jail while he, his brother, was taking care of
their mother. Worse: their mother left her home to Chen.
Chen's brother is resentful and seems to take his revenge on his son
Weiwei. Weiwei has disappeared and his father refuses to tell Chen where
he is. Chen overheard that his brother may have sold the kid.
Eventually his brother Crazy Face confesses that their friend Monk has taken the kid
on a trip to their hometown. This Monk is mentioned as a former gangster,
whose son was killed by a rival gang. Chen used to work for Monk.
Chen decides to travel to the hometown and rescue Weiwei.
His coworker asks him to deliver a few gifts to her old lover.
Chen takes the train. Again, we hear a broadcast about a wildman.
When Chen arrives in the hometown, we learn that his mother abandoned him
as a child, that he was in jail, that his wife is dead.
Chen is eager to find musicians who can still play a traditional instrument
(the lusheng), but the only extant band is not in town. He hitches a ride
on a truck to the town where the band is playing. On the way he sees a man
who has been forced to stand in a bucket with another bucket on his head.
He was bullied by three other kids. Chen comforts him. The kid gives him
a motorcycle ride. The kid is in love with a girl named Yangyang who is
about to move to Kaili to become a tour guide. Yangyang is a tailor and
fixes a few buttons of Chen's shirt. Then Chen walks into a hairdresser
shop. Meanwhile, the camera follows the kid and Yangyang. Yangyang takes the
boat across the river and, during the trip, recites the sentences that she
has memorized about Kaili (we hear a male voice suggesting them).
Then she returns via a footbridge. The motorcycle kid would like to move
with her to Kaili. While Chen is getting his haircut, we learn that
Monk's son was buried alive, and that he, Chen, spent nine years in jail.
Chen sings with a pop band that is performing in the main street of the
village. The audience includes the hairdresser and the tailor Yangyang.
The motorcycle kid takes Chen to the river and tells him that his name is
Weiwei, and that his plan to turn time back by painting clocks on every
train. We finally see Monk, the former gangster, an elderly man who is shaving in the
mirror of his little van. Chen tells him that he wants Weiwei back.
Monk tells him that Crazy Face was selling the boy and he, Monk, offered
to buy him.
Chen stumbles onto the lusheng players: they are escorting a funeral.
Chen takes the train alone, having agreed to leave Weiwei with Monk for
a few more days. Chen falls asleep. A train goes by in the opposite
direction and we see lots of clocks painted on his cars.
Diqiu Zuihou de Yewan/ Last Evenings on Earth/ Long Day's Journey into Night (2018)
mixes the story of a melancholy man who is haunted by the memory of his lost
love with the actual memories of what happened to them,
and it ends with a dream that reassembles and reshuffles all
the elements that have surfaced.
The story set in the present is a rather uneventful search for a cynical
woman who has been very good at dumping husbands and lovers.
The flashbacks instead construct a semblance of a noir movie in which
the protagonist met this femme fatale and risked his life only for her
to desert him.
The story is told in fragments and it is not always clear whether a fragment
is happening in the present or in the past, and whether they are shown
The main confusing aspect of the plot is that we don't know whether Luo's
memory works or not, and therefore we don't know whether we have to take
what we see literally: two women are played by the same actress
(Kaizhen/ Wan) and two more
(Wildcat's mother and the madwoman)
are played by another actress; but does it mean that they are the same
As the film progresses, and the protagonist's motives become more clear,
we are not even sure whether the protagonist is looking for his old love,
for the mother who abandoned him as a child, for revenge (of the murdered
friend) or for just a lost period of his past.
Note that Luo keeps using his mom's picture to find his lover Wan, because
they look very similar.
He has been abandoned three times: by his best friend
(murdered), by his mother (who left him when he was still a child), and
by his lover. He is haunted by all three mysteries.
If the film recalls Andrei Tarkovsky for some of the dilapidated settings,
David Lynch for the ambiguity and fragmentation of the storytelling,
and Kar-wai Wong for the voiceover and melancholy mood,
there is also some
Proust in the search for the lost past and some Freud in the way he mixes
his mother and his lover, and in the way his
subconscious rebuilds his life's story in a mostly rational dream
using doppelgangers as powerful symbols.
The last, nocturnal scene consists of one continuous 59-minute take, shot in 3D.
This begins when he wears the 3D glasses in a movie theater: basically, he
starts watching a movie of his own life... past, present and maybe even future.
We are told the same story twice, first in the unreliable form of memory and the other in the even less reliable form of a dream.
On the other hand the combination of real investigation, faulty memories,
and dreamed events, when they all viewed as a whole, may provide an accurate
depiction of what happened.
The protagonist remembers his lover in stages and in layers.
By the end we don't know exactly what happened out in the real world,
but we have plenty of clues to reconstruct what happened inside him.
In a nutshell, the story seems to be this.
Luo returns to his home village after 12 years. He has to attend the funeral
of his father but in reality he wants to find the girl, Wan, whom
he loved back then. He met her after he started investigating the death
of his best friend Wildcat. Trying to locate the killer, Zuo, he met his
girlfriend Wan, who looked like his mother, and they fell in love.
Zuo had killed someone to protect this girl using a gun borrowed from Wildcat's
father and then killed Wildcat (maybe because Wildcat knew his secret).
Luo and Wan wanted to run away,
but Zuo caught them and tortured him. Luo escaped,
Wan convinced Luo to kill Zuo, but then she disappeared.
A picture of his mother found in a wallclock (the same picture that he once
showed to Wan to prove how similar she looked to his mom) takes him to a woman
who is in prison who sends him to a hotel: Wan did hide there and married
the hotel owner,
but they divorced and she left him (a fact that seems to imply a serial cheater
who seduces and takes advantage of gullible men).
She is now a singer and a prostitute in a karaoke bar. The bar is about
to be torn down and that night they have the last show. Waiting for
the show to begin in one hour, Luo walks into a movie theater and falls asleep.
Then he has a 59-minute dream in which all these characters reappear in one
form or another. Then at the last minute the camera stops in front of the door
beyond which the perfomance is about to begin.
The film begins without a title card.
The voiceover of the protagonist Luo Hongwu talks about the woman he loves.
He wakes up in a bedroom with a woman and admits to her that he dreamed
of his old lover, a mysterious woman of whom he doesn't even know the name.
Then he packs his bag and leaves. He returns to his hometown Kaili, where his
father just died.
He hasn't been back in 12 years. He left to work in a casino.
His stepmother gives him a broken wallclock that his father loved so much.
His father has bequeathed the restaurant to his stepmother and only a derelict
van to him. He is haunted by his best friend
Wildcat, who was murdered in a mine shaft; and Luo found the gun that killed him.
He visits a rundown shack where the ceiling leaks, presumably a place
connected with his love story, and opens his
father's clock and finds a picture inside, a picture of his
mother, who abandoned him when he was a child, as well as a phone number.
The narrating voiceover tells us
that, after Wildcat died, he saw his ghost on a train.
Luo suspected Zuo Hongyuan, a local thug, of the murder, who had vanished,
and tried to find him. Luo found Zuo's girlfriend.
She told Luo that she didn't know where Zuo was hiding.
Luo followed her while she walked inside a tunnel.
He told her that she looked like his mother and showed her the picture of his
mother that was in the clock.
She told him her name, Wan Qimen.
Back to the present,
there's a phone number on the picture and a friend tells him that it used
to be the number of a women's prison. He visits an inmate, Tai, and asks her
whether she mailed the picture to his father's restaurant.
She tells him that she got the picture from Wan and she tells him a story about
Wan: that as teenagers they robbed
a house and Wan only took a green book, a book of legends.
It also contains spells to make a house spin and a spell to fly.
Wan was later sold to a man (not clear whether as a prostitute
or a wife), while she, the inmate, was arrested with the others.
Wan gave her the picture and yes she, Tai,
mailed it to the restaurant because it was taken in that restaurant,
and she wrote the phone number of the prison in the back.
Luo gifts the green book to Tai and leaves.
He is already driving the van out of the town home when a cop chases him and gives him a handwritten note from the inmate telling him where Wan now lives,
in a hotel disguised under the name Chen.
A friend helps him track down this Chen in a hotel.
A flashback shows us when Wan told him that she got pregnant,
to which Luo replied that he could go and work in a casino,
and that he wanted to teach the child to play ping-pong.
But Wan replied that she already got an abortion because
Zuo was coming back. Luo begged Wan to flee with him.
He is driving his van on an unpaved road and is stopped at a police checkpoint.
Another flashback shows when Zuo captured them, hanged him by his wrists and
tortured him while singing karaoke, his gangsters witnessing the scene
Luo walks into the hotel and asks about Chen. The owner of the hotel tells him
that, when she moved in, she was mysterious. She locked herself in her room and
never came out until she ran out of money. Then they got married. Then they got
divorced and she disappeared.
The hotel owner guesses that he is Luo (which means that Chen must
have told him about Luo).
The hotel owner says that he doesn't know if what she told him was true or
false: she was too good at telling stories.
He heard that she now performs in a karaoke show.
Another flashback shows when she asked Luo to kill Zuo: somehow Luo had escaped
and she wanted him to ambush Zuo and kill him in a movie theater.
On the way to the karaoke bar, Luo visits a hairdresser who is dancing in front of the tv set. She is
Wildcat's mother. It's the
first time they meet since Wildcat died. Luo and Wildcat used to work for her.
Luo tells her that a mudslide forced them to abort their mission.
A flashback shows when the murdered Wildcat was dumped in a cart
and pushed down into the mineshaft.
She tells Luo that Zuo had borrowed the gun from Wildcat's father to
kill the man who wanted to sell Wan (which is presumably the reason that
Wan became Zuo's slave, and presumably this man is the same one mentioned by Tai).
Luo tells us that, after presumably killing Zuo, when he returned to the house with the leaking ceiling, she was gone, leaving behind the green book.
(Having just heard how she took advantage
of the hotel owner, we suspect that she had taken advantage of Luo too, having
him kill Zuo to free herself).
Following the directions of the hotel owner,
Luo reaches a place where a karaoke bar and brothel is about to be torn down.
That night the last performance will take place.
This is his last chance to find Wan.
The owner of the establishment tells him that the show will begin in one
hour and advises him to watch a one-hour movie.
He sits in a movie theater, wears a pair of 3D glasses, falls asleep, and
Now (halfway into the film) the title card of the film finally appears, as if
this is the title card of the film that Luo is watching, not of the film that
we are watching.
His dream (a 59-minute unbroken take, long exactly one minute less than the
hour that it takes to wait for Wan's karaoke performance)
takes him into a tunnel that connects the movie theater with a
mineshaft where he finds a child locked into a closet who claims to be
a ghost and named Wildcat.
Luo is lost in the maze and cannot find the exit. He burns the picture of his
mother and meditates that he is missing the last chance that he had to find Wan.
The child challenges him at a ping-pong game.
Luo wins and the child accepts to escort him outside.
The child takes him on a scooter to the exit and then tells him to board
a chairlift that will take him back to the karaoke bar. Instead he lands
in a tiny village where a small crowd is watching a karaoke show.
He meets a singer who is playing the slot machine and is preparing to go on stage
(played by the same actress who plays Wan Qiwen).
Luo tells this woman that she looks like the woman he's looking for and she
replies that her name is Khaizen.
She manages a pool house. She wants to close and go home but t
violence to convince them to get out, but the two kids, leaving the place, lock Luo and
Khaizen inside. The woman tells him that her boyfriend abuses her and cheats
Luo spins the ping-pong paddle that the child gifted him and they fly
over the square. She points the house where two lovers used to live.
She takes him to the prison gate. Then she walks back to the main square
where the crowd is watching the show. A madwoman shows up with a flaming torch,
played by the same actress who played the hairdresser, Wildcat's mom.
Luo is hiding behind a corner and starts following the madwoman. She walks
to an iron gate that is locked. The man on the other side refuses to open
because she has just burned down their house. She accuses him of being a liar.
Luo joins them, points a gun at the man, forces him to open the gate, and to
take the woman back. He talks to her as if she were his long-lost mother
(who abandoned him as a child and burned down his father's house).
He asks her the most valuable thing she has and she gives him a broken
watch. He returns to the square and gives the watch to Khaizen who is about
to go on stage. Nonetheless, she takes him to see the house of the lovers
and is surprised to see that it was burned down (presumably by the madwoman).
Khaizen tells him that he can kiss her if the house spins, and Luo uses
another spell to make the house spinning.
They kiss. The camera walks outside up the street to the door where she
is about to perform. This sequence has lasted 59 minutes and Wan's karaoke
show should start now.
(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx) |
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