Those of you that were fans of the gritty documentary realism of Li Yang’s first feature, Blind Shaft, will probably take an intuitive liking to Blind Mountain for that very reason. Li Yang’s use of regular folks–non-actors–always feels like a breath of fresh air, especially after watching movie/pop-star bloated films we’ve recently watched, such as Lust, Caution and King of California. The story: it’s the early 1990s somewhere in bumblefuck northwestern China, and a Bai Xuemei, a recent university graduate thinks she’s got a job doing some temporary agricultural work, but little does she know that’s about to get abducted and sold as a bride to mustachioed little stump of a peasant.
The story then follows Bai’s various attempts at escape. This narrative storytelling at its most economical; nothing feels extraneous—there are no voice-overs and no backstories and no flashbacks. And maybe we’ve become overly cynical movie-watchers, but it feels good to be spared all the flabby character development scenes you usually get in big movies, with all the meaningful glances and poignant dialogue you’ve come to expect. However, some (well, Derek Elley in Variety) have argued that Blind Mountain has gone too far in the other direction:
Take a quietly scenic Chinese background, a large helping of backward peasant stereotypes and stir in (very slowly) the socially pertinent theme of sold-off brides and you have “Blind Mountain,” a shake ‘n’bake meal that’s instant fest fodder. Low on drama and originality, and high on deja vu, sophomore outing by writer-director Li Yang (“Blind Shaft,” 2003) could still find a limited arthouse audience, especially in occidental markets that respond to social portraits of mainland Chinese backwardness.
Later on, Elley says:
Absence of music, aside from local ditties, accentuates the hard-scrabble rural atmosphere but also underlines the fact that there’s little emotional underpinning to the rote story.
At the time that it was screened (as part of Un Certain Regard at Cannes), there was the possibility that it might not win approval from state censors. However, judging from the little “this film has been approved” bit in the beginning of the film, well, it was approved. Although Elley’s criticism might sound a bit harsh, there’s more than a bit of truth to it. Other practitioners of the hard-scrabble, underbelly of society pseudo-documentary style, such as Dardenne Brothers of Belgium, tend to do a better job of avoiding the rote and the moralizing, though we suppose here you get into the realm of personal tastes, so we’ll stop our comments at that. As for Blind Mountain, our final verdict—a fairly standard dramatization, nothing mind-blowing, worth a casual, low-to-mid level expectations watch.
Photo from tvnet.com.cn