Ant City -- Film Review



HONG KONG -- In the tradition of digital features (though this is BetaSP) about the trials and tribulations of the newly urbanized and middle classed in China comes "Ant City," an interminable drama about a loosely connected group of Dalian denizens and their personal dilemmas and aspirations.

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As long as China and all things Chinese remain hot properties on the international festival circuit, "Ant City" may stand a chance at festival play -- particularly given its intensely independent nature. However, with poor (or no) color correction, a weak sound mix and bracingly familiar subject matter, "Ant City" is nearly unsellable on any other front.

An An is a young woman with an uncommunicative boyfriend, Xiang, and a wealthy lover, Lin, that makes her semi-affluent lifestyle possible. When both Xiang and Lin wind up in the hospital with nearly identical injuries, An An's life gets complicated; both men are relying on her to help them in their convalescence. On top of that it seems, rather inexplicably, she's suddenly the star of a reality show (but only for a few hours). More pressure is heaped on her when she discovers she's pregnant.

Cast with local actors and directed with an eye toward naturalism, the film is more of an expositional slice of Dalian life than a linear narrative with a traditional beginning and end. There is more than one extended Tsai Ming-liang-esque sequence of characters lying around in bed, eating noodles or smoking on the balcony, as if director Gao was conveying directionless malaise via prosaic chores. That would be fine if he had anything truly new to say, or if this were the first time a film dealt with the young and overwhelmed in China. He doesn't, it's not, and neither Gao's characters nor his actors are compelling enough to maintain interest in them or their problems.

Technical glitches can be expected from indies and, if there's enough creativity to the rest of the film, usually forgiven. Because "Ant City" is afflicted with same navel-gazing tendencies as so many other Mainland films they're hard to overlook here. The unshakeable belief that uninteresting people are somehow more fascinating in long, still, poorly lit shots drives every scene. The murk doesn't do anything to bridge the gaping chasm between viewer and the sketchy characters either, and ultimately that's what pushes "Ant City" into disposability.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival Filmart
Sales: Gao Wendong
Production company: Time Story Culture Media
Cast: Wuman Bachu, Zhuang Linlin, Huang Jingbo
Director: Gao Wendong
Screenwriter: Gao Wendong
Producer: Li Qingjun
Director of Photography: Shi Xiaowei
Production designer: Xin Bu
Music: Daniella.
Editor: Gao Wendong
No rating, 83 minutes