English Title: Kaili Blues
Original Title: Lu bian ye can 路边野餐
Genre: Drama, Mystery
Director/Writer: Bi Gan 毕赣
Music: Lim Giong 林强
Cinematography: Wang Tianxing 王天行
Chen Yongzhong 陈永忠
Xie Lixun 谢理循
Yu Shixue 余世学
Guo Yue 郭月
Luo Feiyang 罗飞扬
Yang Zuohua 杨作华
Liu Linyan 刘林艳
Zhao Daqing 赵达清
Zeng Shuai 曾帅
Chinese filmmaker Bi Gan’s awards-winning debut, KAILI BLUES, in fact, the literal translation of its Chinese title is “roadside picnic”, which appears to be the name of a frayed paperback collection of poems we can glance in one scene relatively near the beginning, and indeed poem suffuses in Bi’s oneiric idiom, told through the voice-over of our protagonist Chen Shen (Chen Yongzhong).
The opening shot is a nearly 360-degree roving take setting against in a fixed position, a sparse clinic where Chen works with an elderly doctor (Zhao), they live in Kaili, a foggy, soggy, crummy sleepy town in China’s southeast, subtropical Guizhou province. In lieu of plying audience with Chen’s backstory, Bi cogently puts beauty derived from quotidian scenery in a salient place where a laconic story-line takes its form most subtly, the place where a young boy Weiwei (Luo) and his father Crazy Face (Xie) lives is decrepit and noisy to a fault, but strikingly there is a cascade just in vicinity, which promptly gives the said place an almost surreal grandeur, also Bi manifests his ingenuity by capturing the reflection of a passing train on the wall, a blunt intrusion brutally shattering the homely equilibrium but who can deny its aesthetic signification, plus, a passing train would later give the film’s ending a divine “turning-back-time” coup-de-maître.
Soon it transpires that Chen is an ex-convict, and Crazy Face is his brother, but there is bad blood between them (which always has to do with family inheritance, properties in particular), Chen notices that Crazy Face is a deliberately negligent parent and suspects that he is going to sell Weiwei. So when Weiwei is sent away to Monk (Yang), a former gangster ringleader Chen once worked for and for whom he is locked behind the bars, he embarks on an excursion to look for his nephew, and concurrently, to locate his colleague’s old flame, who has Miao pedigree and presumably falls gravely ill.
The magic occurs when he reaches a town called Dang Mai, where Bi employs an audacious long take running over 40 minutes following Chen and other people he meets there, in particular, a local girl Yangyang (Guo), who is going to work as a tourist guide in Kaili and a young man also named Weiwei (Yu) who overtly carries a torch for her which she seems not to reciprocate. When reality, past, dream are entwined in that bucolic loop, Bi even risks betraying the camera’s own existence in order to achieve this cinematic wizardry, is this Weiwei is a future version of Chen’s nephew? Does the hairdresser (Liu) he meets is a reincarnation of his deceased wife? When Chen wears the shirt which is delivered to his colleague’s Miao lover, is he reliving an imaginative past to give away the cassette, the pledge of romance and courtship? There are cues and incongruities, but the whole enterprise is so remarkably done that should it be singled out as an absolute high water mark from a tenderfoot in the sphere of film-making.
Taking the mantle from Chinese indie trailblazers (Jia Zhangke is the obvious object of reference), Bi Gan has a particular knack of marshaling amateur cast and sampling everyday settings to evince a strangely, but also affectingly enigmatic quality bordering on an amalgam of warmth, otherworldliness and allure, converging with its poetic undertow, kismet-galvanized mythos, beguiling scenery shots, peculiar camera composition and astonishing visual fluidity, plus other perverse quirks: the movie’s title materializes roughly 30 minutes into its duration, and its opening credits are read out loud which harks back to Pasolini’s THE HAWK AND THE SPARROW (1966, 7.5/10) where the credits are given a singsong treatment, KAILI BLUES is the whole package for art cineastes, and more encouragingly, Bi Gan is very possible, “the” most electrifying discoveries of recent Chinese cinema.