Friday, 5 October 2007

Dam Street (2005)

Dam Street 2005, Chinese dramaA gritty art house drama that sets in Sichuan, China (a place that's world renown for its tongue scorching spicy steamboat, and giant panda).

No self respecting Chinese director makes a movie without making comment about the social condition of China, especially those in the last 30 years since the Opening Up in 1978 (engineered by Deng Xiaoping, who happened to be born in Sichuan).

I could tell you everything about the director's social comments on Chinese society without revealing a single thing about the plot because they are completely not essential to the plot, but it's crucial in setting the social context in which the story is taken place.

The story starts in 1983 when the Opening Up has made very little or no effect on the society that just came out the devastation of the Cultural Revolution. When the school girl got pregnant in high school, she's being openly ostracised via loud public speakers in school ground. This should give the audience a taste of what the Cultural Revolution was all about - public humiliation. If saving face is important, then a fitting punishment would be to make some body lose face in public.

The movie fast forward 10 years later. China has undergone drastic change in that decade. After 1978, China moved at the speed of the Internet. 10 years is a long time in the Internet world as well as China. With the economic opening up, the director also shows how money corrupts people. The parvenu asks his fiancee's friends to have sex with him for money. He couldn't understand how anyone could turn down his offer. The girls sit around talking casually about working as prostitutes in Shenzhen. One says that she would do it if she isn't pregnant.

The director also laments the loss of tradition due to the modernisation. The female lead is trained in Sichuan Opera. When she tries to perform her traditional Sichuan Opera in Pussykat Karaoke, the audience jeers at her, and demanding her to sing pop songs. She relents and ens up singing pop songs from HK in her operatic costume.

Yep, this director is painting quite a scathing picture of the changes taken place in China.

In many of the famous Chinese films by Zhang Yimou and Jian Wen, while its story it is conventional, it's the cultural, political, social contexts that set it apart. I consider this film falls into this category.

Take Jian Wen's In the Heat of the Sun, without the Chinese context, it's just a coming-of-age movie.What I like the most about these films is that you can watch it and totally oblivious to the directors' messages and still enjoy the story. A bad movie is where the messages are interfering with the narratives. I.e. when the messages take higher priority than story telling.

It won 3 international film awards.

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