EmptyPusan International Film Festival, New Currents
China's independent filmmakers have a penchant for depicting the young and restless as taciturn, prone to fights and wallowing in stupefied élan. Languorous long takes, minimum dialogue and even less plot or music also have become their patented film parlance. "Er Dong," directed and written by Yang Jin, is no exception. The 150-minute film about an angry young man living under the stigma of being adopted is overlong and lacks the vigor associated with youth.
The only reasons why festival programrs on a talent scout should still check this out are its above-par cinematography and unusual setting within a Christian community in China.
What makes "Er Dong" interesting is that unlike many youth rebellion films in which adulthood equals reforming anti-social behavior, the protagonist grows up but doesn't really come of age. He falls into the same patterns of behavior and defies any pressures to conform. The film arrives at a point when he risks retreading his parents' path but ends ambiguously. The adopted son of a Christian widow, he is sent to a Christian school to stop him hanging out with biker gangs, but he is soon expelled for his involvement in a fight. He elopes with a classmate (Yang Mingjuan), whom he knocks up in no time.
Traditional figures of authority, like the school dean or Er Dong's uncle, quote passages from the Bible extensively, but their faith seems to have little effect on either Er Dong's recalcitrance or their own behavior. Er Dong's efforts to hold down a serious job are repeatedly frustrated by officious authorities and thuggish cops. One of his relatives even suggests he sell his newborn to make ends meet.
Lurking somewhere behind the dry narrative is skepticism about the ability or willingness of religion or the state to help individuals. The pawning of Er Dong's motorbike and confiscation of his rifle -- his most prized possessions -- could symbolize a deeper sense of loss and deprivation, but the director's overall thematic intention is vague. However, the audience has no recourse to anyone's inner thoughts, and with an amateur cast that is expressionless throughout, the film is an alienating experience.
Only the superb compositions and pristine cinematography of the countryside in seasonal change leave a definite impression.
Cast: Bai Lijun,Yang Mingjuan, Guan Caolan, Guan Xiaoke, Cao Xiaojun.
Director-screenwriter: Yang Jin.
Executive producer: Zhu Rikun.
Producer: Cui Zi'en.
Director of photography: Situ Zhixia
Art director: Xu Xiaoli
Editor: Yangjin Masai.
No rating, 150 minutes.
Production: Hi Film.