Wang Tong

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So Close to Paradise Review


Excellent
When the country of China is mentioned in conversation, it is usually in conjunction with the Great Wall, not its citizens. This film embarks on a remarkable journey through working class China in the late 1980's, as three characters struggle to help each other in a nation still trying to get to its feet.

The plot is simple, allowing the characters the attention they deserve. Dong Zi (Shi Yu) comes to the city from the countryside because of the opportunity to make money. He earns an honest living as a petty "shoulder pole" on the docks and is permitted to crash with Gao Ping (Guo Tao), an older gentleman and self-proclaimed businessman who tries to show him the ropes because they are from the same town. But Gao has a vendetta against a man who cheated him out of money. Though he dresses better and lives a fuller life than Dong, he is none the happier for doing so.

Continue reading: So Close to Paradise Review

Quitting Review


OK
Director Zhang Yang's Quitting, which chronicles the rise and fall of Chinese actor Jia Hongsheng, is a difficult film in several respects. It's not an easy chore to watch a person's life crumble, and here the task is made even more taxing by virtue of the fact that this movie is based on a true story and, amazingly, its cast is comprised entirely by real people portraying themselves. In addition to traditional narrative filmmaking, Yang mixes documentary-like interview footage with several scenes where the camera pulls back to reveal the actors performing the material on the set of a play. Yang's inventiveness is commendable, but his daring causes the film to become derailed on several occasions. Add to that a pace which makes the second half of the film crawl to the finish, and ultimately Qutting can feel a bit too unnecessarily weighed down and excessive.

Jia Hongsheng was on the cusp of stardom in the 1980s, having gained fame playing the roles of villains in several Chinese B-movies. The actor, however, suffered from extreme emotional instability and his experimentation with drugs led to a quick fall from grace. As his mental state continued to fracture, Jia's parents -- fellow actors who were long-time members of a theater troupe in Northern China -- packed up all of their belongings and moved in with their son, who was sharing an apartment with his sister. The road to recovery was, of course, beset by a multitude of pitfalls, eventually leading Jia's family to institutionalize the man.

Continue reading: Quitting Review

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