Magazine article Screen International

People Mountain People Sea

Magazine article Screen International

People Mountain People Sea

Article excerpt

Dir: Cai Shangjun. China. 2011. 91mins

A far cry from Cai Shangjun's award-winning debut The Red Awn, this follow-up, screened as the Surprise Film in the Venice competition, lacks the warmly humane approach of his predecessor, offering instead a grim, unflattering portrait of the Guizhou Province in South-Western China, one of the wilder and less developed parts of the country.

The mine sequences, towards the end, would easily suggest a descent into hell out of which there is no escape.

Shaped like a Western revenge movie about a man who goes out on a thousand miles trek to chase his brother's killer, People Mountain People Sea (Ren Shan Ren Hai) is based on a real incident which took place a couple of years ago. But unlike classic Westerns, Cai's muddled narrative is never easy to follow and his social observations rather than his narrative skills or psychological insights, that might generate interest in his film, though it would require very patient audiences to sit through it till the end. The film was the Surprise offering at the Venice Film Festival.

Back in his home village after a 10 year stay the big city, Lao Tie (Chen Jianbin) finds out his brother has been murdered by an ex-con, Xiao (Wu Xiubo), and though the police had identified the murderer, they were unable to apprehend him on time and now he is gone, no one knows where.

Driven by instinct rather than by some profound sense of justice, Tie sets out to do the job of the police and find the culprit, which in Chinese terms is like finding a needle in a haystack. A friend from the city, who turns out to be a drug addict and a pusher to boot, promises to help but fails. He gets in trouble with the police and the only way out is a hefty bribe which the representative of the law pockets without batting an eye.

A short visit to his former girlfriend, Tian (Tao Hong) starts with a violent rape followed by Tie's first encounter with the son they had together, presently living with a foster family since the girl has now a new companion. …

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