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Source:  South China Morning Post

True to form, this year’s Busan International Film Festival in South Korea, which concluded earlier this month, once again played host to new Chinese-produced movies of various styles and stripes.

On the one hand, there was mainstream fare in the shape Xu Zheng’s “Dying to Survive” and Huang Bo’s “The Island,” summer comedies that grossed 3.1 billion yuan (US$448 million) and 1.4 billion yuan (US$201 million), respectively.

Also showing were auteur-driven works such as Jia Zhangke’s “Ash is Purest White,” which made its bow at the Cannes Film Festival in May, and Pema Tseden’s “Jinpa” – a drama set in Tibet and produced by Hong Kong film­maker Wong Kar-wai that premiered at the Venice Film Festival last month.

Among these high-profile entertainers, auteurs, and rookies was an award-winning master – Wang Xiaoshuai – who chose to present his latest work in Busan without the fanfare accorded his peers.

Wang’s “Chinese Portrait” is a narration-free documentary comprised of hundreds of short sequences the director shot over the past decade about the everyday lives of ordinary people in China.

The project began as an attempt to capture the landscapes featured in the paintings of his friend, contemporary artist Liu Xiaodong.

“The first images were shot in 2009, when I went to the places where Xiaodong created his paintings,” says Wang. “From there, I expanded the scope of what I wanted to do and went around China, creating tableaux with my cameras just like I was making a painting. I chose to shoot with film – that was the time when we were still using celluloid – and I even used a four-by-three aspect ratio, to be close to what films should be like.”

“Chinese Portrait” is a record of how China has changed over the past decade. Images of people leading provincial, traditional lives – fishermen mending their nets by the sea, potato farmers cultivating windswept fields, Buddhists and Muslims practicing their religious rituals – are juxtaposed with sequences showing modern offices, bustling urban junctions, and beaches bursting with revellers.

As he has done in the past through fiction, Wang uses the documentary form to point at the disparity between rich and poor. The urban bourgeoisie are shown spending their holidays in the sun while the rural underclass pray for rain in China’s arid interior.

While not exactly offering a hard-hitting cri de coeur about the country’s problems, Wang provides plenty for the viewer to reflect on – which, in the current political climate in China, is an achieve­ment in itself.

Read the story at the South China Morning Post.

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