Chi (癡) / Mr. Zhang Believes
Reviewed by Hannah Lau
Directed by Qiu Jiongjiong, All Ways Pictures
China, 2015, 134 minutes
Mandarin Chinese, subtitles in Chinese and English
Trailer can be viewed on YouTube.
Traditionally, film festival pieces are known to push boundaries and be more artistically daring than your average blockbuster affair. But the space in which director Qiu Jiongjiong plays with his film Chi (癡) is one that even has the artistic community a bit stunned. The film, which has been alternately named Mr. Zhang Believes, has been described as a hybrid documentary—one that blends theatrical fiction and autobiography. Existing in relatively uncharted territory, hybrids bravely blur the lines of categorical boundaries.
Between the historical narrative and avant-garde theatrical presentation, this film, first and foremost, is a piece of art. Most films are driven by the story and the mode of delivery is simply a vehicle that gets the point across. But as a renown painter-turned-filmmaker, Qiu elevates the medium so that how the story is told is just as important as the message itself.
The message—the narrative takes the audience back over 30 years of China’s history via the true story of Mr. Zhang Xianchi. He was born in a nationalist Kuomintang family in the 1930s but was a progressive young “leftist” and Communist Party supporter. However, after the founding of the New China in 1949, he was unreasonably dubbed a counter-revolutionary “rightist” due to his family background and jailed in 1957.
The medium—filmed mostly in black and white with brief moments of colour, the scenes are presented as vignettes that coexist in the ambiguous reality created by hanging cloth walls and smoke. Qiu creates a mood of murkiness and distrust that envelopes the audience from beginning to end, conveying the tone of that point in history.
It’s certainly a less conventional way to consume this type of historical narrative, especially something as sensitive as the Cultural Revolution. But the ability to present political (not to mention controversial) content in such a striking art form speaks to an element of undeniable brilliance.
The past should not be forgotten, for we can never move ahead without facing up to and inspecting it.
Full versions of the film are not yet available through mainstream channels but it has been making its rounds in the international film festival circuit. Keep an eye out for it at the next film festival in town.