Xueqin Liang, Yu Zhang, Chang Hong
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“…a film to be enjoyed primarily on a visual level.”
One of the main pleasures of Song Chuan’s sophomore film Ciao Ciao – perhaps the best reason to see it, even – is the way it recalls and filters successive generations of Chinese cinema. Aesthetically, the film draws on the Fifth Generation cinema of the ‘80s, especially Zhang Yimou and Chen Kaige, in the way it strands a young woman in imposing rural surroundings and society’s constraints. This is balanced with the disaffected, everyday realism of Jia Zhangke and his frank depictions of the small towns where nothing ever happens. And there are shades of last year’s oneiric Kaili Blues too, particularly in the cyclical opening and closing shots of a train in the distance.
Ciao Ciao refers to the titular character (the first lead role for young Sichuan actor Liang Xueqin), a self-absorbed city girl who has been reluctantly persuaded to return to her hometown, a village in southern Yunnan where the main activity appears to be selling corn liquor. While there, she encounters two other recent city returnees: a hairdresser who has migrated from Guangzhou, and a rough local (Zhang Yu and Hong Chang).
A French-Chinese co-production, Ciao Ciao is open about sex to a degree that would never be permitted in a pure mainland production, both in visual representation and thematically, as the driver of the power relationships between the three principals. The performances are convincing though arguably somewhat undemonstrative, and the script is ultimately a touch flat to reach the heights of the classics it calls to mind.
This is a film to be enjoyed primarily on a visual level: cinematographer Li Xuejun drenches the palette in ochre red and the woozy tropical greens of far southern China, while the score mixes viral Chinese pop songs with intense electronic jolts, foreshadowing the unsettling denouement.