The Bird People in China Movie Review

If you know famed Japanese director Takashi Miike for his long string of ultraviolent Yakuza gorefests and stories of unspeakable sexual perversion, you'll be shocked -- in a dreamy, Zen-like way -- by The Bird People in China, a strange aberration in the Miike oeuvre that's soft, sensitive, and deeply moving. No human entrails were spilled in the making of this movie.

This is a road picture, a very bumpy road picture, featuring two Japanese men who make their way to a primitive corner of China's remote Yunnan province in search of a potentially valuable vein of jade that's just waiting to be mined. Yuppie businessman Wada (Masahiro Motoki) thinks he's traveling alone. Little does he know he's being shadowed by Ujiie (Renji Ishibashi), a yakuza who plans on grabbing the jade lode since Wada's company owes money to his gangland bosses.

Upon their arrival somewhere near the middle of nowhere, they're met by Wada's hired guide, Shen (Mako), a good-humored hippie type who knows the mountains well. Wada finds out about Ujiie's evil intentions, but he has no choice but to soldier on with the gangster in tow. Both are utterly dependent on Shen to guide them by van and on foot to the extremely remote location where the jade is believed to be.

Sit back and watch the scenery. It's soon obvious that Miike plans to deliver some hard-hitting environmentalism lessons along the way. The canyons through which the threesome wander are so beautiful, and the people they meet so isolated and innocent, that the last thing you want to see is an invasion by a Japanese mining crew showing up to destroy a mountain.

The villagers are of two minds. They're thrilled with the idea of getting electricity and basic services, but they're wary of strangers, as well they should be. The unpredictable Ujiie tends to wave his gun around, and Wada is kept constantly on edge by Ujiie's bad temper.

And there's something weird about the village that has Wada confused. Aren't the words of that pretty song that lovely young Si-Chang (Li Li Wang) always sings actually broken English? And why does she have blue eyes? Wada has her sing her song into his tape recorder, and then he spends days attempting to translate it via his pocket electronic English-Japanese translator. Even talking to the villagers is a struggle. Wada speaks Japanese to Shen, who speaks Chinese to a villager, who then translates into the local dialect for the village chief. More than anything Wada wants to know why the local children run around with bamboo and cloth wings strapped to their arms, flapping them wildly as if they're learning to fly. "It's a tradition," he learns, but a tradition based on what?

The village's secrets are revealed at a leisurely pace, and the hot-tempered Ujiie finds himself lulled by the environment. Eventually he goes native and in doing so introduces a new kind of danger to the village. The film builds to a battle between the past and the future. It's quite a debate. We're always reading articles about the Chinese government's willingness to devour its own natural resources for the sake of its fast-paced drive toward industrialization. What's going to happen to these people and their pristine home?

Miike handles all this with surprising reserve. Except for one stunning scene where we see a CGI flotilla of turtles pulling the travelers' raft upstream, there are no special effects and none of his typical gore. It's a small story painted on a huge and gorgeous canvas, and you won't want it to end until you find out if the villagers really can fly.

Aka Chûgoku no chôjin.

Stretch!

Cast & Crew

Director :


Comments

The Bird People in China Rating

" Good "

Rating: NR, 1998

Advertisement

Editors Recommendations

First Pictures Of Disney’s ‘Into The Woods’ Starring Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp

Have you ever wondered what happened to Cinderella, Rapunzel and...

First Pictures Of Disney’s ‘Into The Woods’ Starring Anna Kendrick and Johnny Depp

Win Tickets For V Festival 2014 in Chelmsford!

V Festival is getting ever nearer and tickets are quickly selling out, but you can skip that pricey entrance fee by entering our new competition...

Win Tickets For V Festival 2014 in Chelmsford!

Ariana, Zooey, J-Lo, Miley! When Actresses Become Songstresses

Jenny Lewis isn't the only former actress to find musical success.

Ariana, Zooey, J-Lo, Miley! When Actresses Become Songstresses

Critics Say 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Is Great, But Does Anyone Disagree?

The new Marvel movie Guardians of the Galaxy has been praised to the...

Critics Say 'Guardians Of The Galaxy' Is Great, But Does Anyone Disagree?

What Do We Know About Christopher Nolan's Interstellar?

Christopher Nolan and Matthew McConaughey made a surprise visit to the San Diego Comic-Con last...

What Do We Know About Christopher Nolan's Interstellar?
Advertisement

Jennifer Lawrence Is Hollywood's Darling - How Has She Done It?

A teaser trailer for Jennifer Lawrence’s new film, The Hunger Games...

Jennifer Lawrence Is Hollywood's Darling - How Has She Done It?

NBC News Host Brian Williams Pulls Ultimate Embarrassing Dad Trick Announcing Allison Williams' "Peter Pan" Casting

NBC’s production of Peter Pan has found its lead in Girls star Allison Williams...

NBC News Host Brian Williams Pulls Ultimate Embarrassing Dad Trick Announcing Allison Williams'

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3D

When a pirate gets his hands on a long lost magic book in which anything he writes comes true, he...

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out Of Water 3d Trailer


More recommendations

Advertisement