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DC: One of the things I'm glad about our Chinese line-up this year is that you're starting to see with a film like Sophie's Revenge, which probably isn't the greatest film we've ever shown, but it is a fun, frothy, silly romantic comedy that really serves to prove that China finally has a commercial film industry. It really didn't for the longest time. They're capable of making this sort of silly fluff. It's Amelie-esque, I guess, and really plays with the public persona of (actress and star) Zhang Ziyi and it's got So Ji-Sub in it.
Tian An Men (pictured) was also really just an amazing find. I went to the Beijing Film Festival screenings this year, (fellow Subway Cinema programmer) Goran Topalovic and I sat through—oh God, ten or fifteen of these "Sixtieth Anniversary" films about the heroic struggle of the oil workers in the 50s or the founding of the republic, these big high-profile things. Gorgeously made but just bo-ring. Just boring. No real story to them. The founding of the republic—it's just a mystery to me how they couldn't make a good movie out of that.
But Tian An Men is just a nice, affecting, well-acted movie about the poor, lowly work unit whose job it is to decorate the square for the proclamation of the Republic. It's political by its nature but not in any specific way whatsoever. There's nothing in it that's going to offend anybody except perhaps the fact that it takes place in Tian An Men Square. It's really, really good and you end up pulling for these guys. We thought that there wasn't going to be any of these "Sixtieth Anniversary" films worth inflicting on a Western audience, not even as a curiosity. But this actually is a good little film and it manages to be patriotic without being brutishly nationalistic.
GH: Watch Sophie's Revenge and Tian An Men back-to-back and your head will explode. But yeah, I'm going to go with Tian An Men because I agree. No one else is showing it, no one else is touching it and China has a whole film industry that no one ever sees, that most people are too good to look at, which are all the regional studios that keep churning out movies, some of which, or a lot of which, are never even released. Tian An Men is a big special-effects extravaganza because they recreated Beijing in 1949 and I think it's—it is affecting, but it's also got a very over-the-top, campy kind of "God bless socialism" message. The movie itself is so ridiculous in its scope. The big challenges in this movie are, "If our lanterns are too small and unbalance the aesthetic of the gate, we need bigger lanterns." That's the giant conflict in the movie, a decorating challenge. "We need more banners so we can make a filled-out display but there's not enough red dye."
It's crazy the minutiae that it deals with and it's mostly stories from the work unit that actually decorated the Tian An Men Gate. It's not going to get enough attention in the festival but no one's screening movies like this anywhere else. Purely as a cinematic vacation to a land where communism won and to see what communist propaganda looks like with modern filmmaking techniques and special effects and not being too horrible—because everybody thinks of these campy 60s movies and 70s movies and the worker's operas and stuff. This is no more propganda for socialism than, say, Forrest Gump is propaganda for capitalism.