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Monday, September 12, 2005

Perpetual Motion

Programme: Contemporary World Cinema
Director: NIng Ying
Country: China
Year: 2005
Language: Mandarin
Time: 90 minutes
Production Company: Beijing Happy Village Ltd.
Executive Producer: Francesco Cosentino
Producer: Ning Ying
Screenplay: Ning Ying, Liu Sola, Hung Huang
Cinematography: Andrea Carazzuti, Ning Ying
Editor: Ning Ying
Production Designer: Yang Xiaoping
Sound: Han Bing
Music: Liu Sola
Principal Cast: Hung Huang, Liu Sola, Li Qinqin, Ping Yanni, Zhang Hanzhi

Film Description: Bold and articulate, Ning Ying’s latest film, Perpetual Motion, is destined to shake audiences out of their preconceived ideas of women’s roles in China. It is a fascinating, volatile mixture of repressed desires, past traumas and close proximity to political power that roils within the contemporary Mainland’s high society. Suffused with cutting-edge black humour and creeping eeriness, this story of four friends unfolds within the borders of a splendid Beijing courtyard house in the space of one long, seminal night on the eve of the Chinese New Year.

Earlier the same day, Niuniu (Hung Huang) has discovered both her husband’s absence and a love email addressed to him, clearly written by somebody she knows very well. Determined to spend the festivities in good company as well as to unveil this double betrayal, Niuniu gathers her three best friends, Lala (Liu Sola), Qinqin (Li Qinqin) and Madame Ye (Ping Yanni).

As the evening progresses through customary Spring Festival activities such as playing mah-jong, eating a banquet of delicacies and watching television, Niuniu’s vindictive plan unfolds as she follows the lines of a conversation that leads the protagonists to disclose the secrets of their hearts.

Apart from Li, who is a well-known actress, the women interpreting the film’s characters make their acting debuts here, but they are also some of the most prominent and influential female figures in China. Hung, the daughter of former senior diplomat and Mao’s English interpreter Ms. Zhang Hanzi (who herself appears in the film as the old house maid), is a celebrity in the Chinese media and publishing world, while Liu is an acclaimed novelist as well as a famous musician and the composer of Perpetual Motion’s mesmerizing score.

Blending fiction and reality in a bravely authentic narrative, Ning gives voice to the audacious maturity of the “other half of the sky.” Assertive and worldly, her untamed heroines loudly speak the language of their sexuality and ride their wealth of revolutionary memories. Destined to excite and perturb, Perpetual Motion is a milestone for women in the new Chinese cinema.

This was one of the films I most looked forward to, because of my interest in women’s issues. I was somewhat disappointed with the film itself – there were two scenes that I didn’t quite get while watching – the chicken kill scene and the scene where the women are eating the chicken claws (yuck). The film seemed too simplistic – or had too many subtleties ingrained in Chinese culture that I just wasn’t getting. I wasn’t sure of which until the Q & A with Ning herself after the screening.

It turns out that a lot of her funding came from the government – so not only was she producing this film in China, under the most restrictive conditions, but having to conform to government funding guidelines as well. The reasoning behind the casting of three non-actresses is fascinating. The “Hollywood” pressures of having younger, attractive women star in films also exists in China; to circumvent this issue, Ms. Ning, justified her funding and simultaneously maintained the integrity of characters in pre-menopause by casting women who were non-actresses, but each a “celebrity” of sorts in China, some for political reasons, mostly for their involvement in the arts… There is a significant blending of art and reality in this film. Like their characters in the film, several of the women’s fathers have been incarcerated for 7 and 8 years, and most (all) women spent time abroad in real life as well as in their characters.

Ms. Ning’s determination to present a film with unique and strong women personalities is further seen not only in the plot and character development, but also in several of the scenes. The most telling is the chicken claw scene, where the women feast at length on chicken claws. The scene was shot with many close-ups and had very clear audio, made more clear by the absence of music and sound during the entire scene. What to me appeared during the screening to be a rather over-lengthy and overdone scene, turned out to be in the Ning’s words, her version of a sex scene. Hmm…

Overall, the movie itself was challenging to watch. At no point did I ever feel particularly invested in any of the characters, which is not really what I’m looking for in a character film… the Q&A however, really added to my understanding of the film and ultimately made this an enjoyable festival experience.

Posted by Brown Eyed Girl :: 1:15 PM :: 0 Comments:

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