September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment
So I went to the cinema today, bravely, to watch the Mandarin movie Wheat. GSC’s International Screens’ offerings have never pulled in a massive audience. There will not be lines circling the perimeters of the cinema for a movie showing on the International Screen. Typically, there’s simply a bunch of nerdy-types, outlaws and discards – gathered in communal yet estranged appreciation of movies rendered in another language and refusing to make eye-contact with one another lest this horrible infection becomes a permanent disease – standing around waiting to enter the theatre before being spotted by Someone One Knows for daring to watch a movie alone. A movie in another language, mind you.
Some KL-ites can be very mean in a very Mean Girls way towards people who like different things. I mean, especially once they’re out of high school.
Or that’s how it felt, anyway, on this rainy afternoon.
As for Wheat, well, who can remember? I willed myself to sleep through it, because the cinema was freezing and my thin cardigan just wasn’t enough. Also, much focus was on my bladder – the result of a grande vanilla latte prior to the movie. (Note to self: never again; always after, never before.) It’s a testament to the International Screen movies and its popularity among KL folks that it will never be full enough in the theatre that the warmth of many bodies can take your mind of the specially-calibrated Arctic chill.
So… back to the movie. I’m not sure why He Ping decided to make it. You’ll have to ask him.
I think, somewhere along the way – and this is me just randomly attributing intentions to He Ping – he wanted to convey in Wheat the pain of being uprooted from one’s life either literally, by having to go off and fight a war, or symbolically, by having to stay behind in a world emptied of the people who have gone off to fight a war. In 3rd century BC China, this means, of course, men – gone, women – left behind. But somewhere along the way He Ping couldn’t decide if Wheat should be a drama on the condition of human pain and nihilism or a satire on social and economic politics, or just something he lost interest in doing along the way, and the result is a potently snooze-worthy mix of bad dialogue, stilted acting, and over-the-top, cringeworthy performances by the resident “clown” named Zhe, played by Du Jua Yi.
The historical context was played down in favour of individual character development – which would have worked had the characters been strong enough to merit focus. The cinematography worked wonders in rendering a particular slice of 3rd BC China as its own character, much more than any of the human characters, to be sure; the visuals of sumptuously-coloured fields and the women’s plain white linen costumes create effects that are certainly beautiful, but which ultimately lack resonance because the movie on the whole is neither here nor there. The slapstick humour was basically a ham-handed way of exploring the absurdity of war and the spread of information in wartime, and that’s just too bad, because you know, it sort of had to be funny to work.
There are lots of shots of manly buttocks wiggling like jelly in the men’s G-string type contraptions that involved long swathes of fabric in a skirt-pants type thing that covered their calves and part of their thighs but not the buttocks. Lord knows what these things are called; but only lord really knows if peasant men dressed that way back then. In any case, even if they did, He Ping’s choice to focus on the cavorting Zhe and his bare buttocks was just odd; as a spectator our gaze is directed there, but it’s unclear why. Something about the framing of Zhe’s buttocks felt as hackneyed and absurd as the character itself, and it seemed to be shown merely to titillate the viewer, but all it did was alienate the viewer (or perhaps just me) in the most disconcerting way. And I say this as a fan of men’s bums. Generally-speaking.
But the thing I found most annoying was how, in the women-occupied village to which these two military deserters found themselves, the potential for erotic play and desire gone haywire was just RIPE for the taking but completely ignored by He Ping except as a catalyst for one or two badly-written and badly-conceived bawdy jokes. I mean, these women constituted a veritable army of desire; when the other non-clown, actual manly-man male character was passed out drunk, some of the women rubbed their faces against his bare torso and squealed, “Ah, how I love the smell of alcohol on his skin!” or something to that effect. PURE POTENTIAL. Unfortunately, all that happened after that is everyone stumbled about artificially-drunk and the village shaman started having fits, and the whole party had to come to a stop.
Bla bla bla, some tears; shots of wheat fields; close-ups of Fan Bingbing’s luminous face; close-ups of Fan Bingbing missing her husband and replaying an erotic scene in her head after which she rolls around in a piece of red cloth; close-ups of dewy, quivering leaves; lots of high-pitched women yelling, squealing, shouting; the two men and their wiggling buttocks; very, very bad slapstick that was basically a waste of movie-watching time; and then, and then! The movie ends.
(This is not really a review. But you knew that.)