KAILI BLUES – Review by Diane Carson

0 Flares 0 Flares ×

Kaili Blues merges past, present, and future in contemporary China.

With its meandering narrative, it takes some patience to engage with Chinese writer/director Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues, but the effort is immensely rewarded with unusual immersion in contemporary life in Guizhou province, southwest China. There, the episodic story focuses on ex-convict Chen Sheng searching for his nephew Wei Wei whom, Chen believes, his half-brother Crazy Face sold into servitude.

Leaving the small Kaili city medical clinic at which he works, Dr. Chen uses motorcycles (when they work), cars, trucks, and even a boat in his pursuit, with long takes dominating and nine poems Bi wrote as a teenager read in voiceover. Along the way, he interacts with representatives of the minority Miao culture (interspersing their Lusheng music), spends time in the area’s famous underground caverns, near a waterfall, and, searching for Wei Wei, wanders after fifty minutes of film time in the present into the mysterious ancient village called Dangmai where time is suspended. Is Chen dreaming, reminiscing, or in a world of magical realism? By contrast, it speaks volumes about modern China that no machine works properly and few structures remain intact.

Over halfway through the film, in a breathtaking forty-one minute take, Chen moves through Dangmai’s streets and alleys, exploring the past, present, and future. Bi Gan says he wanted to “blur the boundary of being and nothingness.” For all but two roles, Bi captured unmistakable spontaneity by casting local, nonprofessional residents, inserting details from their lives as well as his own. In addition, Bi’s uncle Chen Yongzhong, who plays Chen, is in fact an ex-gangster, as is the character Chen. Inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, Bi has transformed the story and style into a marvelous exploration of a dreamy, fluid world.

Bi Gan’s A Short Story complements Kaili Blues. In fifteen minutes of pure poetry, a black cat seeks the world’s most precious things, finding three unexpected treasures. Inventive and gorgeous, Bi’s unique filmmaking is again on full display. Bi Gan’s A Short Story and Kaili Blues are in Mandarin with English subtitles.

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 0 Flares ×

Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.