A communist soldier is sent to a remote region of China in order to collect folk songs. Staying with a peasant family (a widower with two small children), he discovers a community whose way of life is completely alien to him, but he gradually wins their trust…
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In comparison to many films that are lazily shoved into the "transcendent cinema" category, it was surprisingly fast paced and accessible. Despite occasionally having personal emotions expressed in folk songs, it holds quite an objective perception of the characters. Including the unmodernised north and "pre-Mao progressive" south, that you eventually realise is a stinker of a false dichotomy.
Taoist philosophical elements subvert the Maoist and Confucian prevailing paradigms of Chinese culture - the complexity of good and bad in everyone, the subversion of gender normativity and the compositional framing of each scene akin to a Chinese painting where the horizon sits low and the sky overwhelms.
My first experience with Chen Kaige, definitely has me interested in further exploring his work. I viewed a copy of horrible quality, which makes me think I might have been missing out a bit, but I could still appreciate the film.