Unlike other Chinese indie directors, Gan (a Henanese based in Guangdong) comes to film-making from a background in film theory and Christian studies. His roots certainly show in this remarkable peasant tragedy in which the camera never moves (unless it’s mounted on a moving boat) and close-ups seem as startling as they must have done in the 1910s.
Ah Shui (played by the director) is an impoverished peasant with impossible financial burdens: a pregnant wife, a brother facing execution unless he can be bailed out of jail, and a kid sister who needs her high school fees paid. He has two father figures, one a self-important communist teacher, the other a Christian priest who comes to the village once a week by boat; neither can help him much when he discovers that he’s contracted HIV from selling his blood to the local butcher. Set in serene landscapes (the Chinese title means ‘Beautiful Scenery’), this is a spiritual drama played out in robustly physical terms. –Time Out