Sunday, October 16, 2011

in between days

The first time I watched the film three weeks before, I had a very different experience. I watched it alone by myself in my bed at a chilly rainy night, and before this film, I just watched Fight Club, which kept me immersing in the twisted illusions of life and death. I was still depressed and my brain was stirred up when I watched “In between Days”. Last Monday, however, while I watched it on the big screen with the class, I was able to view it with a fairly neutral mood.
One of the most memorable moments while watching the film was when the girl asked the boy to sleep over in his closet. To me the scene evoked my memory of a similar experience. When I was in middle school, my neighbor always made a lot of trouble that his parents would hit him, then he ran away from home and came to hide in my closet. I would let him sleep in there sometimes too. The affection I had towards him was something really subtle and confounding to me, and not sexual. While he slept in my closet, I felt nervous and anxious, but also really happy. In the film, there's little sexual tension in that scene, but the the mixed feelings both of then had was portrayed really realistically: the girl asked him to sleep in the closet but didn't resist when he came to sleep on the bed in the middle of the night, then she forced him again to hide when her mother got up. I can see her anxiety when he came to her bed and lied down next to her; she was relieved that he didn't do anything and looked at his profile lying next to her with affection.
I think the culture conflict is definitely reflected in this film, but not as a prominent part. Though I though it could have gone further in the context of the story. At the beginning of the film, Aimie's culture shock upon living in a western country(later known as Canada) is well presented through her English class , her lunch at school dining hall, her letter to her dad, and parties she went to. It gives me a clue that the story is going to be built on this foreign setting, and around challenges she will face and overcome. To my surprise, the story stayed on the same page, and focused entirely on the relationship between the two main characters; they are so isolated from the environment that it didn't even matter where they were.
Overall I feel really related to the two characters and their relationship.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Xiao Wu

In the film “gently down the stream”, I was most captured by the text scratched on film and I especially appreciate the fact that they are punctuated one word after another; it conveys a message in a way that is raw,honest, personal and emotional. Together with the reoccurring collaged images/actions, they push forward a strong presentation of the filmmakers’ personal perspective on female gender roles, sexuality and homosexuality. The film takes a very subtle approach on the correlation between text and image; to me, they don’t match literally at all. They can appear confusing or even conflicted at times but that’s the nature of a personal voice. When I write a diary, I often tend to write in a stream of consciousness way, while the visuals in my head could be quite repetitive images or actions without sound, that has nothing to do with what I am writing. The film indeed leaves lots of blank spaces for viewers to fill in between and it being silent also adds more to its unpredictability.

I have previous known about Jia Zhang Ke through his film called “Platform”. When I watched Xiaowu last Monday, I was constantly reminded of “Platform” perhaps because of they were shot in simliar locations( a small town in Shan’xi) and time period(around the culture revolution in the seventies). The lead character Xiao Wu, also has a similarity to the lead character portrayed in that film. He lives in a very realistic world but remains a very unrealistic person: He still believes in his bond with his old pal Xiao Yong, who later became very rich doing cigarette business, while Xiao Yong is ashamed of their past as thieves and don’t even want to invite Xiao Wu to his wedding. He fell in love with the girl at the Karaoke club, and trusted her but she left without saying goodbye for a better life, perhaps with another richer man. One of my favorite scene in the movie was when he asks his friend to weight the wedding gift money in the red pocket and tells the story about his promise to Xiao Yong. The back story is so well portrayed just through their conversation and Xiao Wu’s narration, and it also leaves me plenty of space to imagine the close bond bewteen Xiao Wu and Xiao Yong in the old times, as well as Xiao Wu’s deep attachment to his idea of brotherhood. I can’t help put this scene into a larger, historical, political context. Mainland China at that time is undergoing a very rapid change in both economy and pop culture. Even a small isolated town has started to accept new western business ideas , technology and public media: Xiao Yong’s success in cigarette business, pop songs played all over the streets on television and radio, Karaoke and dance clubs, use of pager/mobile devices. All these influences are changing people ‘s communist mind set while there’s still a deep ongoing reinforcement of communist ideologies, which is represented through the public propaganda radio announcements, Street advertisements, and portraits of Chairman Mao, that has been shown throughout the film.

Here are some of the notes from reading the book that I think is helpful for me as a filmmaker:

1.The filmmaker may control setting in many ways. One ways is to select and already existing locale in which to stage the action, alternatively may construct the setting. The overall design helps/shapes audiences’ understanding of the story action.

2.Much of the impact of an image comes from its manipulation of lighting. It’s more than just the illumination, but it creates the overall composition and it guides audiences’ attention. It articulates texture of objects.

3.In many respects, a film shot resembles a painting. It presents a flat array of colors and shapes. But it differs from painting by having movement.

I have always paid great attention to all aspects of mise-en-scene in films I watch. mostly because I want to work in the field of art direction. In the film “Xiao Wu”, everything is really well composed but also look really natural and real. For example, I especially like the scene of hundreds of people riding bicycles on the street, which is really typical in China; it brought me back to China where I grew up.

My favorite films from Mainland China include Red Lanterns, Not one less, Hero.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Secret Sunshine

I always thought putting a film work into the category of “Melodrama” is insulting. The word originally refers to the very dramatic orchestral music that accompany the actions in the theater. Film, I think, should not resemble theater, otherwise it loses the whole meaning. Theater is often about exaggeration and staged presentation, while film to my point of view is about “hiding” the acts and bring audiences into an believable observation position. Therefore if the film is considered too “melodramatic”, it has failed to realize the story by taking audiences out of it.

The film “Secret Sunshine”, to me, is very realistic in most aspects, except the part about shin-ae having an epiphany about “god” and became an enthusiast. This plot seemed quite abrupt to me, as if the the movie suddenly changes into a promotion for Korean Church. Maybe it was sponsored by the church? I was almost going to lose interest when the film goes on about how she become very actively enrolled in all kinds of church activities, but soon, surprisingly, I was instantly re-captivated by the plot: Shin-ae visited the jail and realized the “injustice of god”. This to me, was the most memorable and unexpected moment in the film. It not only successfully turns the story and actions around leading to a new direction, but also elevates the theme to a new level. The psychology behind Shin-ae’s reaction to the murderer and the chain of her later crazy actions is confounding to me in many ways: On the one hand, after the visit to the jail, she generated hatred towards god because of his “injustice” instead of suspecting god’s existence. She sinks into depression and doubt. On the other hand, she turns to seducing the doctor whose wife introduced her to the church healing group as a revenge. She also created mess at a church reception to suggest that all is a “lie”. She, in a way, developed two very different attitudes; she’s resigned to her own devastated situation and has given up changing her fate, but still does not accept the injustice of life and wants to challenge other people’s faith in God.

I am very sympathetic of the relationship between Shin-ae and Jong Chan. Chan is very bossy but he is not aware of it. He shows his affection for her by cutting in her life. For example, he faked the piano certificate for her without her consent; he follows her around and gives lots of instructions. He unconsciously manipulates her and didn’t think much about the consequences. When he defended Shin-ae in front of her mother-in-law, he did not realize that it will cause her mother-in-law and other relatives to suspect that Shin-ae has an affair with him. Shin-ae, from my point of view, never really liked him and just consider him as a maybe a brotherly figure. Even at her most desperate moment while her son got abducted, she gave up asking him for help; she doesn’t want to owe him.

Below are some of the notes I have taken while reading the book:

-Narrative is a fundamental way that humans make sense of the world.

-The film shapes particular expectations by summoning up curiosity , suspense and surprise.

-A narrative is a chain of events in cause-effect relationship occurring in time and space.

We draw an distinction between story and plot(or story and discourse).

-The plot explicitly presents certain story events, so these events are common to both domains. The story goes beyond the plot in suggesting some diegetic events that we never witness. The plot goes beyond the story world by presenting nondiegetic images and sounds that may affect our understanding of the action.

-In general, spectators tend to imagine what connect events by means of cause and effect.

-Casual motivation often involves the planting of information in advance of a scene.

I think both the films we watched in class are good representations of the differences between story and plot. For example, in “Secret Sunshine”, we observe events in the eye of Shin-ae how the plot advances, as oppose to the non-diegetic stories involving other characters such as Shin-ae’s son, or Jong Chan. We still understand what happens without knowing everyone’s actions and situations. Both films also did a good job of planting information in advance.