Chongqing Blues (2010) Movie Review

Highly acclaimed Sixth Generation Chinese director Wang Xiaoshuai returns with his latest work “Chongqing Blues”, completing the multiple award winning ‘City Trilogy’ which began with “Beijing Bicycle” in 2001 and “Shanghai Dreams” in 2005. Although very much in his grounded, naturalistic style, the film is most accessible to date, having a notably higher budget than his previous works and boasting a top cast headlined by Wang Xueqi (“Bodyguards and Assassins”) and Fan Bingbing (“Wheat”), with support from Qin Hao (“Spring Fever”) and up and coming young actors Zi Yi and Li Feier, The film has been another hit with critics around the world, being the only Mainland China entry at Cannes in 2010, and having played a variety of festivals including London in October.

Based upon a real life incident, the film is unsurprisingly set in Chongqing, and follows a sailor called Lin Quanhai (Wang Xueqi), who returns home after 15 years of absence to find that his twenty five year old son Bo (Zi Yi) is dead. Lin investigates, and is told that the boy was shot by police in a local supermarket after going on a knife rampage and taking a hostage (Fan Bingbing, in a fairly small role). Devastated and at a loss as to what would have driven his son to violence, he wanders the city attempting to track down the people involved in the event, and to get a full explanation from the police as to why the fatal shot was fired.

“Chongqing Blues” does have a different feel to Wang Xiaoshuai’s previous works, with the director attempting something a little closer to a traditional narrative approach. The film itself is a mixture of Lin’s present day investigations and past flashbacks, with Wang complimenting his usual naturalistic style with a variety of other techniques, working in CCTV footage and photography. This approach works well, and although the film does get a little convoluted and meandering, in part since the viewer is already aware of the events which are being replayed, they do serve to help answer the more important question of why Bo suddenly snapped – at least up to a point, with ambiguity still being the order of the day.

Needless to say, the film is about far more than its surface events, and on this score Wang is clearly more concerned with his themes than the plot itself. As the film and Lin’s low key detective work progress it comes to light that he does not even remember what his son looks like, and with it being obvious that he effectively abandoned his family, it dawns upon him, and by extension the viewer that the tragic events are his fault. Through this, Wang explores the subject of the alienation between the younger and older generations in modern China, seemingly drawing the conclusion that the wayward nature of the former is down to the latter not taking their responsibilities to them seriously enough. Although Bo’s case is an extreme example, the other young characters in the film are all portrayed as being angry, distrustful and disaffected, spending their time sulking around, drinking too much and womanizing, and generally acting in a way which makes them seem almost like a different species.

This is arguably a more interesting and engaging line of cinematic exploration than if Wang had used the premise as some kind of anti-authoritarian conspiracy diatribe, and it gives the film a sad, melancholy air. This is furthered by the landscape of the city, which is vibrant and bustling with life, yet somehow empty and haunted, with the old industrial landscape and rundown buildings making for a fitting backdrop. The director makes considerable use of metaphor, with Lin trying his best to get his hands on a picture of Bo, eventually having to drastically enlarge a blurred CCTV frame, resulting in pixelated image that he can’t quite make out. Rivers also play an important role, with Bo’s ashes having been scattered in the local waterway, and with lots of dialogue about all rivers returning to the ocean. Thankfully Wang doesn’t lay things on too thick, and though it does make the film a little ponderous at times it never gets in the way of the more human aspects of the story too much.

“Chongqing Blues” is certainly another fine work from Wang Xiaoshuai, who continues to prove himself one of the Sixth Generation’s most interesting and enduring voices. Though the film isn’t quite up to the standard of some of his earlier outings, it still makes for fascinating viewing, with plenty to say about the painful gap in understanding between the different generations in modern China.

Xiaoshuai Wang (director)
CAST: Bingbing Fan … Zhu Qing
Hao Qin … Xiao Hao
Xueqi Wang … Lin Quanhai
Yi Zi … Lin Bo

Buy Chongqing Blues on DVD