Rock Heart Beijing



Bergen Film Festival

BERGEN, Norway -- A promising, topical debut from Norwegian documentarian Karen Winther, "Rock Heart Beijing" works just fine as an introduction to -- and even, one could argue, an extended promo for -- China's leading punk outfit Subs. A natural for music-themed festival programs worldwide, it's also sufficiently attuned to the cultural/political situation in east Asia's fast-rising new superpower to ensure plenty of attention from fests in general. A 60-minute running-time, meanwhile, will ensure much small-screen exposure.

First among equals here is definitely Subs' sparky lead-singer and main songwriter Kang Mao, who shouts out her lyrics in heavily-accented English -- to avoid falling foul of sharp-eared censors -- and has definite charisma both on-stage and off. Then again, Subs' musical merits aren't really the issue here. The mere fact of their continued existence, in a nation whose cultural activities are so rigidly controlled, is remarkable enough. The band are even able to obtain exit visas in order to tour Europe. Surveying Norway's placid fjords, Kang muses ,"If you live here, how can you feel angry?"

Punk, of course, is all about confrontation and rebellion. The state-maintained conformity and affluence of present-day China make it an ideal target to confront and rebel against. Kang, however is frustrated by Subs' lack of airplay and exposure although their antics seem pretty tame by current western standards. Winther, likewise, breaks little new creative ground, but her professional approach pays dividends.