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A Trip Through Wang Xiaoshuai's Film World

Wang Xiaoshuai: a graduate of Beijing Film Academy, majored in directing. Born January 1, 1966.




As Director:


Drifters (Er Di) (2003)

After the War (Jeon Jang Keu I Hu) (2001) a Korean project consisting of three short films, one directed by Wang.

Beijing Bicycle (Shiqi Sui De Danche) (2000)

Suburban Dreams (Menghuan Tianyuan) (2000) also known as The House or Fantasy Garden

So Close to Paradise (Biandan, Guniang) (1997) also known as The Vietnamese Girl

Frozen (Jidu Han Leng) (1995) released under the pseudonym Wu Ming (anonymous)

Suicides (Da Youxi) (1994)

The Days (Dongchun De Rizi) (1993)


As Actor:


Peering From the Moon (Henry Chow, 1991)

The Red Violin (Fran├žois Girard, 1998)


With his unique and sensitive filmic "auteur" characteristic, young director Wang Xiaoshuai gradually formed his personal style from his early work The Days (1993) to his latest Drifters (2003). The Days was selected by the BBC as the one and only Chinese-language film in a list of the top 100 best films. So Close to Paradise (1997) entered the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 1998 and Beijing Bicycle captured the Silver Bear award at the 51st Berlin Film Festival. Being full of beautiful scenes and delicate plots, his films are always concerned with those who are passive in society: even though they have been dissimilated, are still struggling to retain their dignity in life.


Childhood journeying


What has moving around so much in his life meant to Wang Xiaoshuai? In the
summer of 1966 (during the Cultural Revolution), Wang was taken by his parents from Shanghai to Guiyang at two months of age. He spent most of his childhood in Guiyang until he was thirteen.


Guiyang is a small mountain city where most residents come from other areas, particularly Sichuan Province. They become Guiyang 'natives' after living a long time in the city. When he was a boy, he studied painting, painting ships and planes on pieces of paper, instead of traditional subjects like sunlight, rain or dew.


Since his earliest days, Wang has kept moving from place to place, a restless spirit that maybe was his fate. Even as a boy he wanted to move from the country to the big city metropolis.


His memories of film from that time are of the old revolutionary films, like Dong Cunrui

(1955) by Guo Wei and The Twinkling Red Star (1974) by Li Jun and Li Ang. And his early "film experience" was following older children and slinking into the cinema while tickets were being examined and nobody taking any notice. Many of his contemporaries enjoyed this kind of experience.


In 1979, Wang and his family moved to Wuhan, a metropolis that linked several provinces with a huge floating population. Almost every migrant had to face the lure of the material world and Wang was no exception. He felt very confused as his sincere but stubborn nature was very different from the native people's smart and flexible characteristics. Meanwhile, the noble and glamorous nature of Wuhan City also opened Wang's eyes wide. He only stayed for two years but had got a lot from it.


Wuhan saw the beginning of Wang's adolescence and his first personal journey started there.    


In 1981, Wang Xiaoshuai came to Beijing and entered the high school affiliated to the Central Academy of Fine Arts. His desire to become a painter gradually disappeared in the following four years of study. The early 1980s was a time when China's film industry had been revived and was  making rapid progress.


Obviously, painting could no longer satisfy Wang's requirement to better express his feeling of being in the world. In 1985, after graduation, he enrolled in the directing department of Beijing Film Academy, instead of continuing to learn painting.


At that time, the fifth generation film directors were carrying out film exploration in China. Film subjects extended and many good movies were made, including One and Eight directed by Zhang Jundiao (1984) and Yellow Earth by Chen Kaige (1984). These fresh works not only shocked domestic people who were tired of revolutionary romanticism and revolutionary realism, but made quite an impact across the world. Wang Xiaoshuai began to devour masterworks from all over the world and became gradually fascinated by the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini, Alain Resnais and Yasujiro Ozu. Later, he added Hou Hsiao-hsien, Kitano Takeshi and Abbas Kiarostami to his film canon.


Critical realism


Many film critics misread Wang's films and thought that they were overly sad and desperate. For example, in The Days, painter Liu Xiaodong finally goes insane and performance artist Qi Lei in Frozen gives up his life. Actually, the characters love life. In the former, the days are still filled with hidden poetic sentiment although simple and repeated. In one scene in the film, Chun, the painter's wife, suddenly freezes and gazes direct to camera for a sustained moment. It attempts to reflect the natural emptiness of life, a touching but not affected moment in the film. Wang found a very effective way to depict the constraints and loneliness of life through their general characteristics. A pure, simple and spiritual film. 


The Days
was selected by the BBC as the one and only Chinese-language film in a list of the top  100 best films since the film industry was born. In Frozen, Qi Lei devotes himself to  performance art. Just like Van Gogh, he longs for human sentiment within himself but refuses to communicate with others realistically. Qi Lei died by suicide instead of performance, meaning that he finally discarded the artificial and the real life.


The Days and Frozen seemed to be cold texts, but they are delivered with Wang's affection and feeling for life. His films made in that period have a strong philosophical flavor. As for the mise en scene, the camera work is comparatively sparse and scene composition impressive. 


Many directors like to shoot their first film in their hometown. For example, Zhang Ming made Rainclouds over Wushan in his hometown Wushan, Jia Zhangke filmed Xiaowu in Fenyang County, Shanxi Province. However, Wang Xiaoshuai returned to Wuhan where his parents lived when he set about to make his third film So Close to Paradise. His camera was aimed at a teenage boy who came to Wuhan from the countryside. More and more real images were realized and captured by Wang, including the wailing siren, noisy flea market, busy steamers and the river fog. In the film, all material reality became glittery elements of a spiritual world that reflected the wonder and mystery of film art. Thus, it can reflect, or approach, man's spirit world.


Wang's Beijing Bicycle, which was a winner at the Berlin Film Festival Silver
Bears Award, was a component of producers Peggy Chiao and Hsu Hsaio-ming's 'Tales of Three Cities' series. In Beijing Bicycle, Wang gave priority in the narrative to individual growth as well as the transitions taking place within the city itself. Wang said that "the bicycle has always been an icon of Beijing and of China. Although the bike has lost much of its glory, it remains an important mode of transportation."


Gui and Jian, the two leading roles in the film, have different needs for the bicycle. Gui came from the countryside and therefore the bike is not only a tool for living, but evidence of his existence in the city. Losing it means his right to live in the city has been lost. While for Jian, "his desire to either own it or give it up is driven by pride. The functional role of the bike has been replaced by its capacity for vanity and dignity." City and rural living, traditional courtyards and skyscrapers, Wang Xiaoshuai records the contradictory and chaotic images passively.


He remains interested in depicting human nature, which is his basic in making films. Almost everyone in them suffers a sober but tortured self-awareness, sometimes fervent and sometimes frozen.




So Close to Paradise



Beijing Bicycle





(China.org.cn by Li Xiao and Daragh Moller, December 17, 2003)


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