The Other Half



90 Minutes Film Production

NEW YORK -- Filmmaking duo Ying Liang and Peng Shan's follow-up to "Taking Father Home" is a clear-eyed look at the brutal underbelly of developing China. Like its predecessor, "The Other Half" doesn't shirk from depicting the thuggery, crime and corruption that have taken root since Deng Xiaoping opened the doors to a limited form of capitalism. This time their focus expands to take in environmental concerns and China's nascent legal system.

Its DV look and adventurous narrative structure probably won't lead to much distribution, but it's an intelligent and well-thought-out piece, which should be a custom fit for international film festivals.

The story is set in the industrial city of Zhongqing and is loosely focused on Xiaofei (Zeng Xiaofei), a woman who works in a lawyer's office. Ying, who directed and co-wrote with producer Peng, uses the law firm as a device for young women to air their disagreements straight to the camera, which gives the film a documentary edge. The plot loosely hinges on a doomed love affair, but the real concern is how a local factory is polluting the atmosphere with dangerous levels of benzene.

Ying's too young to remember what life was like before Deng's reforms, so the film doesn't make historical comparisons. It observes rather than judges. This view of China -- one which rarely makes it into the international media -- isn't pretty. One of the lawyers points out that life is just "poverty, unemployment and pollution." The chemical factory explodes, forcing the city to be evacuated, and a supporting character suffocates while trying to smuggle herself into Taiwan.

The subject matter is serious, but the film is not downbeat. Instead, it bowls along with the energy of modern Chinese life. Although it mainly consists of master shots, careful composition keeps things cinematic. The harsh DV look works in its favor, effectively conveying the raw edge of modern Chinese life. "Other Half," which screened at the New Directors, New Films festival, is an ultralow-budget work, and it would be interesting to see what the filmmakers could do with a decent budget.