Kaili Blues, premiering at the Melbourne International Film Festival 2016 (MIFF), is an award winning feature by China’s emerging young director (Bi Gen). Set in the director’s hometown of Kaili, located in Southwest China, the film explores the challenges of the past and the conflicts that present themselves through daily life.
The film is underscored by elements of memory and time, with the use of a visual narrative to present these themes Gen enables the audience to experience and reflect upon their own memories of love and loss through Chen’s own progression without being overbearing. Gen effectively does this through the use of poetry, written and published by the director himself, complimented by panoramic views of Kaili in Southwest China.
The film focuses on Chen Sheng (Chen Yongzhong) a doctor in the city of Kaili. Chen is more than meets the eye and as he journeys to find his nephew Weiwei (Luo Feiyang), he is faced with the unknown territories of one’s memory. While the film’s plot has no linear progression the narrative presents itself through stunning imagery. Drained colours that wash away the traditionally romanticized views of China create a sombre and undoctored aesthetic, giving each scene a sense of realism presented with unfiltered charm. Chen often pulls into view and later leaves the shot, only to reappear from some obscure angle, such as from the side mirror of his motorbike, or through a silhouette on a shower curtain. Gen brings to our attention an element of Asian cinema, nigh unknown in Western culture, that of ‘Daily Life’. In typical western film the camera always follows the action, deviating every now and then to ground the audience in the environment or deepen their understanding of the characters. The unapologetically action-lacking 41-minute take which follows Yangyang (Guo Yue), as she travels across a river located in the town of Dangmai is one such example of fluid and uneventful movement.
The use of unknown actors both hindered and enabled the films fluidity. The lack of emotion and expression used by the main protagonist made it tiresome to watch at times. Although Chen didn’t say much with body language, the audience becomes drawn into the conversations and pay attention to what is being said, or what is left unsaid.
Even through the eyes of a Western viewer, Kaili Blues is a beautiful portrayal of the director’s hometown through cinematography. It is not an unconventional film, but it is not for conventional tastes. Kaili Blues will surprise you in more ways than one. An additional viewing is being held on August 4, tickets on sale through the MIFF website.