Director: Shi Lei (2005)
Of the thousands of young dreamers who arrive in Beijing Railway Station everyday hoping to realize their dreams in the capital, many will have heard the clock bell sound out the tune of Dongfanghong (The East is Red) to herald the arrival of each new hour.
But as the bell chimes its alluring siren song, one wonders how many of these people have found their place in the city that they have longed for since their childhood. This question is a predominant theme in Shi Lei's debut film Shuangxi, the story of the life, love and loss of a young photographer from whom the film takes its name.
Shuangxi leaves his hometown for Beijing and soon finds work in a photo studio, hoping that one day he will be able exhibit his own work. He lives with his girlfriend, Xiao Qian, in a rented courtyard, and apart from the humiliation of having his temporary residence permit constantly scrutinized by the police, life is good for Shuangxi, whose first joint exhibition wins praise from critics. However, events soon take a tragic turn when a gas leak asphyxiates his girlfriend and leaves Shuangxi with both physical and psychological injuries. With the persuasion of his family, he reluctantly returns to his hometown, restarting the life that he had been so eager to leave behind.
First time filmmaker Shi Lei, a graduate from the Beijing Film Academy, wrote, directed and produced the film, despite being a relatively new arrival to the industry. Unlike his prominent classmate, Wang Xiaoshuai, who made his name as an art-house film director, Shi Lei found his niche filming documentaries for the CCTV Science Channel. After fifteen years in TV, Shi decided that the time was right to return to his cinematic roots, a move that resulted in Shuangxi.
"There are many movies reflecting the life of migrant workers in Beijing, but my movie is very personal. Shuangxi's experiences are partly based on my own. I believe many college students will relate to Shuangxi's experiences; they are very similar to those of other young people who move to Beijing," Shi Lei explains.
Following a positive response from audiences at a screening at Peking University, he appears to have been proved right: "I don't have ambition to make blockbusters, I just want to make films that I like with my gemen'r."
Shi's gemen'r constitute the cast of his movie and are all non-professional actors. The director believes this enriches the film as the diverse cast (ranging from hutong damas to policemen), is able to deliver a more realistic and personal performance than trained actors might. The end of the movie leaves the audience guessing: When Shuangxi is celebrating the Spring Festival with his family, he receives a phone call and his ring tone plays Dongfanghong, the call of Beijing that he, like so many others, is unable to resist.
(That's Beijing January 16, 2006)