Dir. Wang Xiaoshuai,China, 2005. 120mins.
Once a rebel now workingin the mainstream, Wang Xiaoshuai draws on his own reminiscences as anadolescent for Cannes competition entry Shanghai Dreams.
Wang's family was relocatedfrom Shanghai to the poor, mountainous province of Guiyang, all part of theChinese authorities' decision to install fortified industrial cities near theborder with the Soviet Union, just in case the differences of opinion mighterupt into more than diplomatic skirmishes.
Wang translates thisexperience into the coming-of-age story of Qinghong, the daughter of adisplaced family, to show how Shanghai's displaced despaired of returning homeafter 10 years in the boondocks, where they are in constant confrontation withthe locals whom they hold to be inferior.
Though the plot's personalaspect is only too familiar and easily adaptable to any geographical location,the social context adds a new facet to the filmed history of modern China.
However, the whole packageis tied together rather slackly, making it more of a trip down memory lane thana distinct dramatic statement. Festivals may not mind, but distributors shouldconsider some serious tightening of loose ends necessary before it venturesinto commercial distribution.
Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan),though a serious and hard working 19-year-old, is constantly goaded by hertyrannical father (Yan Anlian) to invest every moment of her day into preparingfor university. Such an option, he believes, is the only way in which she canprepare for the big city, to which she eventually has to return.
For his part her fatherstill resents how his wife (Tang Yang) persuaded him to leave Shanghai andaccept work in a relocated factory for what was meant to be brief respite - butwhich turned into an indefinite stay.
As a result he never stopsterrorising his family, regularly - and unsuccessfully - pestering hissuperiors for permission to return home, seeking hope in rumours of politicalchange and plotting with friends.
But Qinghong, whether herfather likes it or not, is at an age when she can not be indifferent to the lowkey advances of factory hand (Li Bin), who offers her a pair of shining highheeled red shoes. Nor can she resist the temptation to join her friend XiaoZhen (Wang Xueyang) for some timid partying, where one of the 'cool'guys (Qin Hao) launches into a close dancing parody of John Travolta inSaturday Night Fever.
When Xiao Zhen's affair withthe dancer goes too far, and Qinghong's rejection of her suitor is receivedbadly, events spiral out of control and lead towards a rather forced andmelodramatic climax.
Wang Xiaoshuai draws severalparallels throughout Shanghai Dreams. There is the generationalconfrontation between daughter and father, contrasted with the exasperation ofparents who see hopes of repatriation being constantly thwarted.
On a wider scale there isalso the parallel process of disciplinary relaxation in the country itself.Parents gradually lose their iron grip on their children and the governmentcloses its eyes to the temporary insubordination of one family who break therules in the final sequence.
But the film's final shotresounds to the crack of a firing squad, executing prisoners. The rules of thegame have not changed that much after all.
Told at a leisurely, unhurriedpace, Wang's elegy works better as an album of souvenirs, lavishing attentionon many of the details he knew personally and that were specific to thatperiod, from morning callisthenics to strict codes of dressing. It all offers apertinent image of communal life that successfully contrasts with privateaspirations.
Once he resorts to thepersonal stories of Qinghong, her family and her friend, however, the pieceloses some of its interest and originality.
Though Gao Yuanyuan, asQinghong, is blessed with a handsome film presence, her bland performance failsto imply the depth of her crisis. Yan Anlian, as her angry father, and TangYang, as her long suffering mother, have a much better grip on their roles,with Wang Xueyang, as the vivacious friend, the most memorable of all.
Stellar Megamedia Group