A caveat to begin with: We are predisposed to liking movies about migrant workers attempting to eke out an existence in Beijing. Loach is Fish Too (泥鳅也是鱼), directed by Yang Yazhou, tells the story of recent divorcee Ni Qiu (meaning “loach” in Chinese), who takes her cute little twin girls to Beijing in search of a better life. Along the way she meets a man who has the same name as her, which makes for laughs galore! From this point it becomes an understated love story about a headstrong peasant woman who holds her principles and dignity above all else and a man, also from the countryside, who, despite seeming a bit sketchy and good-for-nothing at first, actually is a good man.
However, it wasn’t the “warmth” of the love story that we liked about this film, in fact we barely noticed that part, since all they do is make the occasional sex joke. What grabbed us most was the film’s contrasty, bleached out look, wherever everything was either white, black, red or green was a bit hard to adjust to in the beginning, but gives the film that gritty, urban underbelly type look — migrant worker noir — that the director seemed to be going for.
Although the narrative arc in the movie is simple — they get to Beijing, suffer many a misfortune, but manage to get on their feet, share some laughs, fall in love despite mutual misgivings and the baggage of past relationships because the kids need a dad and normal family life but then tragedy ensues, yet survivors will be survivors and pull through, dignity intact. Yet despite this simplicity, there’s a lot crammed in there, snippets and slices of daily life that would be more endearing if they were developed more. The pace of the movie is such that you remember plenty of incredible shots, but don’t remember the scenes they were a part of.
We found an interesting writeup about this film that had this to say:
Yang, known as “the people’s movie maker”, is adept at reflecting social changes by portraying the lives of common people. His previous works include Pretty Big Feet, the story of rural teachers.
“The message of Loach Is Fish Too is that as long as I stand straight, I am equal to you. Everyone has dignity,” he says.
All the actors worked without the benefit of makeup to show the gritty reality of migrant life, except one who played an intellectual, he adds.
Few Chinese movies have focused on this disadvantaged sector of society despite its increasing influence on the country. “It is wrong that such a large part of society is so neglected in art,” Yang remarks.
Compared to the aloof portrayal of migrant workers in The World (2004) by up-and-coming director Jia Zhangke, Loach Is Fish Too … reportedly shows more warmth, sincerity and humour.
Yeah, what is it with intellectuals and makeup anyway? Director Yang is right in saying that migrant workers are neglected in art, but to use Jia Zhangke’s The World as a proof is ridiculous — in part because that is the weakest of Jia’s brilliant opus thus far, also because “warmth, sincerity, and humour” do not a good film make. In fact, they more often form the trappings of good films; Loach is so eager to show us its beating humanist heart that it almost ends up losing its head.
You can buy the DVD on Joyo or on
Sensasian.com (Pure Asian Entertainment!) or at your local (dis)reputable DVD seller.
To discover the health benefits of eating loaches according to traditional Chinese medicine, try this (in Chinese).