Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Tang (L) trying to convince Song (R)

Directed, Produced & Written by: Li Yang.
Adapted from the novel Sacred Wood by Liu Qingbang.
Director of Photography: Liu Yonghong.
Edited by: Li Yang and Karl Riedl.
Released by: Kino International.
Country of Origin: China/Germany/Hong Kong. 92 min. Not Rated.
With: Li Yixiang, Wang Shuangbao & Wang Baoqiang.

With a main character uttering, "now only money f------ matters," and the anthem "Long Live Socialism" being sung, karaoke-style, in a whorehouse, it's not too surprising that Li Yang's debut feature is banned in his homeland, China. As depicted here, this is a country where labor is cheap and expendable. Two emotionally detached coal miners, Tang (Wang Shuangbao) and Song (Li Yixiang), run a homicidal scam involving an unsuspecting co-worker, their corrupt employer and blackmail. While in a city looking for work after a lucrative grift, Tang spots a hick, and potential victim, in a crowd. The rube, Yuan (Wang Baoqiang), is only 16, hoping to earn money to send his sister to school. Tang convinces a recalcitrant Song to go along with their usual plan; it's easy money. Yuan is given an alias, made Song's nephew, and has two years added to his age. They all find mining work far in the country, where in their shack food is hung from the ceiling, out of the reach of rats. However, Tang and Song's plan begins to falter when Tang accuses Song of softness toward their prey. He denies the accusation, countering, "If I feel for him, who's feeling for me."

This simple, uplifting morality tale is similar in its sparse style and empathetic point of view to the films of Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne (La Promesse and Le Fils). The deliberately paced film, with understated performances (in fact, there's a moment when you can't tell if Song is grifting or being honest), is rich with ambiance, painting a memorable and lurid portrayal of China's economic boom. KT
February 4, 2004



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