The sequel to his acclaimed observational documentary “Cop Shop” (2009), “Cop Shop II” (2011) sees influential Mainland Chinese director Zhou Hao returning after a year to again capture the daily operations of the police station at Guangzhou Railway Station, one of the most chaotic public transport hubs in China. This time the film moves out of the station itself, taking place during the incredibly busy period before Chinese New Year, and following officers as they attempt to keep the square outside the railway station clear to facilitate the flow of hundreds of thousands of passengers returning to their hometowns and families. As well as helping with a constant stream of people looking for advice, food and shelter, this involves the police having to arrest illegal pedlars selling a dizzying variety of goods, move on homeless migrants, and deal with thieves and a man trying to swindle money from travellers.
Shot in Zhou’s usual detached, naturalistic style, “Cop Shop II” presents a fascinating picture of the everyday hustle and bustle of modern China, as well as the desperation and poverty that still exists alongside the wealth of the country’s economic boom. At times humorous and others tragic, the boldly non-judgemental film explores not only the institution of the police force, but the dramatic changes sweeping Chinese society.
The real power of the film lies in the fact that Zhou neither assigns blame nor takes the kind of combative approach which might have been expected. There’s no police-baiting here, his observational approach finding humanity in and generating sympathy not only for the many unfortunates who drift through the station, but the police officers as well, who in some cases are forced to work 24 hour shifts during the Chinese New Year period, often without any organised relief. The officers are in many ways victims themselves, clearly wishing to help, but limited by the vagaries of an intensely bureaucratic though baffling legal system which leaves them uncertain what to do in many situations, enforcing the law clashing with notions of what is right. Inconsistency is very much the order of the day, with the officers having to waste much of their time pointlessly detaining petty rule-breakers while more serious criminals are set free to go about their business.
As a result, the police station becomes almost a microcosm of modern China, the chaotic events captured in “Cop Shop II” chiefly reflecting a society in many ways trying to come to terms with and police itself. Economic forces and change are very much key, with most of the people who end up in the station being driven by financial desperation in one way or another, and the gap between the rich and the poor being painfully evident throughout – a case in point being one of the peddlers, who immediately after being released from the station simply sets up his stall again nearby, having no other options for trying to make a living. The film is rich with such details, and very few directors have Zhou’s ability to really capture the lives and experiences of everyday people or to do so in such a substantial manner, exploring deeper themes whilst still providing an entertaining viewing experience.
Cop Shop II will screen as part of the 2013 Chinese Visual Festival. For more info and tickets visit the CVF website.