A baby abandoned at a noodle shop changes at least three lives in "The Orphan of Anyang," which shows a rarely seen underside of Chinese society.
By MICHAEL BERRY
After graduating from the Beijing Film Academy and cutting his teeth for four years as assistant to internationally acclaimed filmmaker Chen Kaige, Wang Chao comes into his own with his powerful directorial debut, "The Orphan of Anyang" (Anyang de gu'er). Set in a small city in contemporary China, "The Orphan of Anyang" tells the unlikely story of three characters living on the margins of society whose fates intersect with the sudden appearance of an abandoned infant.
Yu Dagang (Sun Guilin) is a single middle-aged factory worker who finds himself laid off and forced to take up work as a street-side bicycle repairman to make ends meet. On one fateful night at his local noodle shop, Yu encounters an abandoned child left in the care of the shop proprietor. Discovering a note with the baby promising a 200 yuan monthly support payment to whomever agrees to raise the infant, Yu takes the baby home, setting the story into motion.|
Enter Yanli (Zhu Jie), a prostitute from the northeast and mother of the orphan baby. After a series of monthly meetings between Yu and Yanli, where the latter pays her child support, an uncanny relationship begins to develop. Eventually, Yanli decides to move out of the brothel dormitory and in with Yu, turning tricks out of Yu's apartment while Yu fixes bicycles across the street. Gradually an unorthodox family begins to take shape and Yanli decides to get back on her feet, vowing to give up prostituting herself by the following spring. But when one of Yanli's former clients, a small-time gangster (Yue Senyi), returns to claim the infant as his own, the lives of all three characters are changed forever.
This is a simple and beautifully made film that captures a side of China often overlooked not only in the west, but in China as well. Not only do the three protagonists a laid-off worker, a prostitute and a gangster all exist on the margins of society, but even the setting, the small gray overcast city of Anyang, lies far away from both the glamour of the city and the backward countryside we often see depicted in Chinese film. This is but one of the corners of China we seldom hear about and these are the voices that are seldom heard. Indeed, dialogue in "The Orphan of Anyang" is sparse, but the actors deliver superb and genuine performances, especially Zhu Jie and Sun Guilin, who shines as Yu Dagang.
Stylistically, Wang Chao's work may very well remind viewers of early Hou Hsiao-hsien works like "A Time to Live, A Time to Die" and Wang's contemporary Jia Zhangke. Filmed almost exclusively with a fixed camera and long takes, Wang's unobtrusive style works beautifully with his chosen subject matter and the slow-paced life of Anyang. Wang Chao's true triumph, however, comes in his ability to combine this slow, meditative formal aesthetic with a strong and wonderfully unpredictable story line. An established writer, Wang shows his penchant for storytelling in "The Orphan of Anyang," whih was adapted from one of his short stories. A narrative roller coaster told in slow motion, it is a deceptively simple film of great depth, maturity, sensitivity and vision.
|MARCH 31, 2002|
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