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Mdeii Life - Anand Krishnamoorthi's blog

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Olympic Conundrum

While anybody talks about Asia, they keep talking about the emerging powers of India and China.

Today I saw another film by an extraordinary Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou. For me, like most others around me, the image of Chinese movies was restricted to Cantonese martial-arts flicks from Hong Kong; or perhaps more recently, Crouching Tiger�. The first time I saw a Zhang Yimou film, I was absolutely blown away. This was a few years ago and I had the privilege of being in Prasad Lab�s (perfectly calibrated) theatre for an exclusive screening (with only two other viewers), of a pristine print of Not One Less. As an aside, I have to mention that the cans the prints came in were easily stacked and transportable hexagonal affairs, stencilled very officiously in red, and with an ingenious clasp; compare that to the way most of our films� prints are treated.

OK, getting back to the movie, as I said, I was taken aback by the sheer simplicity of the storytelling; what impressed me all the more was that whatever was shown�a quaint story set in a village, seemed to be almost the same as what one could see in any Tamil rural setting. The Chinese situation seemed to be in no way different from what we have here. Yes, there is universality to any poignant tale, but I could see more than just a sweeping commonality, or a coincidental custom or two. I could see a unity of situations�economic, cultural and political, that not many other places could share. And there was this Chinese film that could showcase it.

The other movie I watched today was The Road Home�another �rural� movie. It is a beautiful film with a charming old-world feel, told with measured sentimentality. It had some wonderful performances, especially from the charming Zhang Ziyi, some lovely camera-work and unhurried editing. The only other movie that compares in style would be that Telugu hit of not so long ago�Sippikkul Mutthu (Tamil title). �Telugu hit�, in no way conjures up images of a nicely told tale, just like �Chinese movies� used to be for me. But as a good friend in the Tamil film industry tells me, our filmmakers have stopped �living life�. That is why they are unable to �film life�. They seem to live a plastic existence�with borrowed ideas, stolen art, imitative techniques and artificial emotions permeating their own being. No one can make a good movie without living a real life.

This real life is all the more poignantly caught and relived by the audience if it is close to their own life. That is what I saw in the Chinese movies. I cannot talk about the manufacturing industry, or labour reform, or economic growth, or Olympic success, as I am not a complete student of economics or even remotely connected to sports. I can only talk about the Chinese movie.


12:52 pm

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Comments to The Olympic Conundrum

glad to see you're discovering the world of Chinese film. It has mesmerized me for years. With that in mind, I'll recommend what I believe is the greatest Chinese film ever, The Yellow Earth. Chen Kaige (director) and Zhang Yimou (cinematographer) shot this basically right out of film school. You can probably track down a copy once in Britain. The symbolism is absurd. I find something new everytime I see it. It's even more relevant now that China has transformed itself on so many different levels, except perhaps the most important one. You may not enjoy it as much as I do, but it is a must see for every serious filmstudent.

posted by Blogger Prince Roy 

1:58 pm, September 01, 2004
 

How do you come to know about chinese films. I mean... Hollywood, Bollywood and Kollywood get the right kind of exposure but chinese movies..how?? I thought almost all chinese movies have something do with swords and martial arts.

posted by Blogger Kumaraguru 

5:03 pm, September 01, 2004
 

Prince: I will try and track down that movie. Yeah! You are right. That�s the point I am trying to make here. China has indeed transformed itself in many ways and on many levels while there is something in India (that I obviously cannot understand or perceive) that prevents the same thing from happening here.

KG: That�s what I thought of Chinese movies too. Until a friend of mine introduced me to Zhang Yimou. Chinese films might not be that well publicised in India, but film people generally get to know these things somehow�festivals, word of mouth, special screenings. In fact international cinema has lots to do with government promotion as well. Look what the French and British governments are doing right here in Chennai. They promote their culture and films aggressively. The French hold screenings almost every week�to packed houses.
The Chinese have the advantage of audience numbers that we too have. Even The Road Home was produced by Columbia pictures. By sheer bait of revenue, it is possible to bring in international producers and big money (FDI if you want to call it that) to populous countries like India. But just like FDI, the big players will come in only if the stuff offered is good. We make shit here! Shit that can�t be marketed to our own people, leave alone to an international crossover audience.
There goes another rant. Somehow, I seem to be in a bitching mood these days. Probably because I am watching a lot more good international cinema per day than I used to. It is frustrating to then switch to KTV and watch Sarath Kumar cleave a guy in half, after 15 mins of sermons from his crying mom.

posted by Blogger Anand 

6:31 pm, September 01, 2004
 

Prince: I will try and track down that movie. Yeah! You are right. That�s the point I am trying to make here. China has indeed transformed itself in many ways and on many levels while there is something in India (that I obviously cannot understand or perceive) that prevents the same thing from happening here.

KG: That�s what I thought of Chinese movies too. Until a friend of mine introduced me to Zhang Yimou. Chinese films might not be that well publicised in India, but film people generally get to know these things somehow�festivals, word of mouth, special screenings. In fact international cinema has lots to do with government promotion as well. Look what the French and British governments are doing right here in Chennai. They promote their culture and films aggressively. The French hold screenings almost every week�to packed houses.
The Chinese have the advantage of audience numbers that we too have. Even The Road Home was produced by Columbia pictures. By sheer bait of revenue, it is possible to bring in international producers and big money (FDI if you want to call it that) to populous countries like India. But just like FDI, the big players will come in only if the stuff offered is good. We make shit here! Shit that can�t be marketed to our own people, leave alone to an international crossover audience.
There goes another rant. Somehow, I seem to be in a bitching mood these days. Probably because I am watching a lot more good international cinema per day than I used to. It is frustrating to then switch to KTV and watch Sarath Kumar cleave a guy in half, after 15 mins of sermons from his crying mom.

posted by Blogger Anand 

6:31 pm, September 01, 2004
 

Anand,
"The HERO" by Zhang Yimou is out in US and it was my first movie of his.It was pretty impressive for the first 40mins told in Roshomon style with different POV.With color palletes like the "Shining" kubrick-esque,it was breathtaking with visuals never before seen in cinema.If he tightens the script and reduces the number of slo-mo,the impact could have been greater. Nevertheless a superbly made movie.Wish someone would adapt our Cheras/Chola/Pandiya times with espionage/"Raja thanthiram" kinda stories.But as long as Indian producers are making movies for all purposes other than good cinema, we won't be close to even chinese cinema(not meant in a derogatory way but meant not catching upto the level of even neighbours) .

posted by Blogger Rama The Drama 

10:25 pm, September 01, 2004
 

'Stopped living life'. Well said. When you live life each moment, giving its due respect and passion, you'll discover stories. As some ad guru (phirang obviously) wisely put, 'There's drama in every product'. I'd like to extend it: There's drama in every thing in and around your life; if you only care to look! And phenomea like Friends, Wonder Years happen because some story teller some where discovered stories in seemingly inconsequential things of life. The day we stop saying 'that's what public wants' and the day we stop compromising souls for the sake of the formula, we will make movies that are closer to life. Romba pesitenaa? Sorry da! Are you in UK?

posted by Blogger suman kumar 

10:47 am, September 02, 2004
 

I have a few chinese friends and its amazing how close their culture is to us! They are very attached to their families, hardworkers(!) like us, non-pokers and it doesnt end there.

However, its funny that even Chinese find "arranged" marriage pretty ridiculous!

posted by Anonymous Anonymous 

1:42 pm, September 02, 2004
 

Ramchi: I have to watch Hero. Heard a lot about it. Don�t worry too much dude� a longtime ambition of mine has been to make Kalki�s Tamil historical fiction into films.

Suman: Nandhaan romba pesitten. Ruffled quite a few plumages! We have to grumble all we can; let the world just wait and watch out for us. Enna correcta?

Anonymous person: What you say is significant. There is this line in The Road Home that goes something like: My mother fell in love with my father in an age where marriages were still fixed by elders. Their affair was a first for the whole village. These are not the exact words, but something on those lines. And later on in the movie, the mother too tells her son to seek a good wife for himself and if possible bring her (the girl) to visit her some day.
These days there is also all this talk about the Cultural Revolution and how it has changed China. Has it? I would not know. Maybe your Chinese friends can help here.
But then again, ask some urban Indians� probably a bunch of bloggers, and they would consider arranged marriage ridiculous as well.

posted by Blogger Anand 

5:18 pm, September 03, 2004
 

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