透析 | Judge

Judge

In a small northern Chinese city in 1997, Judge Tian privately struggles with the loss of his daughter, killed by a stolen car in a hit-and-run accident. On the bench he encounters Qiuwu, a mechanic accused of stealing two cars. Perhaps influenced by his emotional state, the outwardly impassive judge imposes an almost-obsolete criminal law on Qiuwu that sentences him to death for his crime. Desperate to mitigate his sentence, Qiuwu agrees to donate his kidney to a rich businessman dying of a terminal illness, hoping at the very least that his impoverished family may profit from his demise.

Directed by Jie Liu | Starring : Dahong Ni, Ting Mei, Liang Qi, Zheng Zheng, Yingchun Song | Presented at Venice Film Festival, Pusan Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, Los Angeles Film Festival, Miami Film Festival

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夜车 | Night Train

Night Train

What threatens to be a fairly inconspicuous oddball drama, opening as it does with unsmiling court bailiff Wu Hongyan traveling to an out-of-town singles dance which ends in a predictably uncomfortable fashion, soon turns in to a rather nasty game of sexual cat-and-mouse as she falls in lust with the husband of one of the women she has had to help detain. Having flown under the radar of Chinese censors, it’s a slow and often painful film about a woman in search of love and affection in all the wrong places. Be warned: just as you think you’re on the home straight, Yinan inserts a repulsive, near-unwatchable scene of a carthorse being flayed to (what looks like) death; a cruelly over-egged metaphor if there ever was one.

Directed by Yi’nan Diao | Starring : Dan Liu, Liang Qi, Zhengjia Wang, Yongsheng Li, Halyan Meng | Presented at Cannes Film Festival, Athens Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival, London Film Festival, Buenos Aires Film Festival

可可西里 | Mountain Patrol

Mountain Patrol

Kekexili is based on actual events. From Mainland China, the film tells the story of Ga Yu, a reporter from Beijing who in 1996 travels to the eponymous region on the border of Tibet, where some local men have organized a civilian patrol to fight the poachers who are decimating the region’s endangered population of Tibetan antelopes, prized for their pelts, which are then exported, to be sold as (once trendy) shahtoosh shawls. As Ga Yu arrives in a remote town, a member of the patrol has recently been coldly executed by the poachers, and the taciturn leader, Ritai, is heading out on another patrol, determined to find those responsible. Ga Yu convinces Ritai to let him tag along by suggesting that a story in a Beijing newspaper might spur the Chinese government to take more forceful action to protect the antelopes. The group leaves on their perilous, high altitude journey. From the film’s opening, with the aforementioned murder, it’s a harrowing trip. Kekexili captures the deprivation and danger of this harsh land, and the necessary ruggedness of the people who live there, with impeccable clarity. Filmmaker Lu tells his story visually, for the most part, with exemplary economy. He doesn’t spend any more time than needed on characterization. He leaves it to his audience to figure out what motivates Ritai and his team to risk their lives in order to protect the animals. Whatever it is, it’s clear that it goes beyond a mere concern for the environment. Ritai ends up completely possessed with finding the gunmen who slaughtered the most recent herd of antelope. He puts his own and many other lives at risk in this pursuit. At the film’s midpoint, Ritai and his men capture a group of poachers, including a kindly old man who tells the patrolmen that he used to be a shepherd, and was pushed into a life of criminality by hard times. The filmmaker doesn’t judge these characters, any more than he does the film’s would-be heroes. It’s clear that on a thematic level, Lu’s primary interest is human, rather than environmental.

Directed by Chuan Lu | Starring : Duobuji, Lei Chang, Liang Qi, Xueying Zhao, Zhanlin Ma | Presented at Tokyo Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Berlin Film Festival, Hong Kong Film Festival, Seattle Film Festival, Cinemanila Film Festival, Montréal Film Festival, Vancouver Film Festival, Warsaw Film Festival, Marrakech Film Festival, Kerala Film Festival