Beijing Blues: Shanghai Review
Director Gao Qunshu's humorous Chinese police procedural stars non-pro actor Zhang Lixian as a warm-hearted cop.
It’s hard to find a tough city cop as warm-hearted and down-to-earth as the Chinese Sherlock of Beijing Blues (a.k.a. Detective Hunter Zhang), an elegantly lensed police procedural inspired by a TV show of the Eighties, spiked with dry humor and soulfully animated by non-pro actor Zhang Lixian. In spite of being narratively jumpy and a bit inconclusive, this offbeat cityscape by popular director Gao Qunshu (Conquer) has a cool, modern look sure to interest festivals in search of more sophisticated Chinese product, while its local idiom and stories should grip local audiences.
The city of Beijing and its squabbling, screaming but ultimately caring inhabitants are the real protags of the film, the victims and perpetrators of petty crimes like pick-pocketing and street scams. Miraculously, Zhang always seems to be one step ahead of his prey, video-taping robberies as they happen from his god-like perch on bridges and overpasses. No question about lack of evidence here. Much of the action is shot through telephoto lens, the p.o.v. of the Hunter.
Nor is there any hint of police corruption: Zhang and his all-male team are honest, seasoned cops who work with choreographed teamwork and always get their man. Above all, there is a reassuring general consensus that the law shouldn’t be broken, no matter what, and the police are there to serve the people.
The vivaciously told stories are disconnected from each other, leaving the disconcerting sense that Zhang is performing an endless job. He himself complains he expected more out of life than solving petty crimes, but when a murder does come his way, he solves it in a flash thanks to the omnipresent surveillance cameras and it’s back on the street, the beat.
He’s kept busy by blackmailers who pretend to be hit by expensive cars, a gang passing out counterfeit bills, petty thieves, fake street prophets, charlatans, cheats and even frustrated citizens who don’t pay their coffee shop bill. Every minute crime is observed by someone, and Beijingers are eager to speak up and help the police.
All this has a mostly documentary interest, until a hint of narrative is introduced in the final sequences. Detective Zhang’s nemesis is the mysterious Gold-digger Zhang (Zhou Yunpeng), who announces he’s planning a major crime before he retires. The detective, who has become extremely popular after a TV crew made a doc about his work, is able to recruit people living in the district to keep an eye out for anything suspicious. The two men face off atop a bridge as they watch their operatives at work, like two generals waiting for the outcome of a battle in progress.
In the main role of the patient, asthmatic, diabetic cop, Zhang Lixian has the burning eyes and tough face to capture the viewer’s undivided attention. A non-pro like many members of the cast, he is actually a well-known blogger and the publisher of popular magazine-books known as “Duku.”
Pulling the whole film up several quality notches is Wu Di’s stunning cinematography that caresses Beijing’s wide, clean streets like a lover. The final long-held shot of the city at night, sliced in half by a highway under gently falling snow, is a poem in itself. Even the black and white video footage is gorgeous. Plaintive ballads and mellow songs alternate on the unexpected soundtrack.
Venue: Shanghai Film Festival, June 21, 2012.
Production companies: Beijing Yuanxin International Culture and Media Co., Beijing Mengjiangwei Film and Media Co., Shanghai Yinrun Media and Advertising Co., Enlight Pictures.
Cast: Zhang Lixian, Wang Xiaoshan, Ning Caishen, Gu Xiaobai, Zhao Mingyi, Zhao Yunpeng, Kong Ergou
Director: Gao Qunshu
Screenwriter: Dai Yang
Producer: Zhao Guangxin
Executive producers: Shen Li, Xiong Yiwei, Wang Rui, Zhang Chi
Director of photography: Wu Di
Production designer: Xiao Yifan
Editor: Yang Hongyu
No rating, 115 minutes.