A supreme mash-up film avant la lettre, Teng Wenji’s At the Beach is some kind of crazy masterpiece. Take one part hieratic, symbolic, visually abstracted rural family melodrama, one part neon-glittery modern metropolitan romance, and a third part high tech factory science fiction, and smash them together with brutal Eisensteinian montage violence. The resulting utterly unique film holds together through the brilliant visual and musical design, and the plain weirdness of its almost incomprehensible ‘plot’. Roughly speaking, Lao Manli is the Fisherman King: he and a small band of fishers fight to preserve their way of life trapping fish on a beach surrounded by a modern satellite town. But the nearby factory is ruining their catch. Manli wants to force his daughter Xiaomei to marry her cousin. She flees to the factory where a supervisor, Xu Yan, tries to seduce co-workers, including her, while promising to help her father sue for his lost fishing income.
Teng assembles many of China’s not-yet-famous film workers, including actress Bai Ling, Zhang Yimou’s future director of photography Gu Changwei, and Crouching Tiger’s composer Tan Dun. Clear influences from Tarkovsky and Godard mingle promiscuously with anticipations of the Fifth Generation’s visceral symbolization of cinema language in this gloriously photographed one of a kind. —Shelly Kraicer