Cala, My Dog
Director: Lu Xuechang (2003)
In the Beijing dialect, Er (two) roughly translates as "it sucks" - making the name of comedy star Ge You's latest character Lao Er and his dismal existence highly appropriate.
Rather than playing his usual bare-headed slapstick comedy, Ge You (Big Shot's Funeral, Be There Be Square) has successfully branched out to play an ordinary worker in the new movie Cala, My Dog. Factory employee Lao Er trudges between the family home and the factory floor every day, while his wife Yu Lan (played by Ding Jiali) gradually puts on weight. Their 14-year-old son, Liang Liang (Li Bin), like most young teenagers, struggles with his family and adolescence, making everyone's lives difficult.
Lao Er's only pleasure in life - playing mahjong - comes to an abrupt end when he meets a young woman, Yang Li (Li Xinxin), and wife Yu becomes jealous. Giving up his mahjong group, he turns his remaining affection on their dog, Cala.
Then one night, the unregistered dog Cala is taken away by a policeman, and Lao Er is given until 4pm the next day to fork out the Y5000 registration fees or lose his dog. Given that the money is the cost of feeding his family for six months, Lao Er despairs of finding the cash.
Lao Er then embarks on a frantic search across the city, talking with strangers, friends, and acquaintances. He approaches his mother, tries to con the policeman with a fake license, and asks former lover Yang for the cash.
Unlike the urban sophisticate's mustache in Big Shot's Funeral, this time around Ge's facial hair adds to the general disorder of messy hair and dingy clothes. Rather than a comic portrayal, his representation of China's working class inspires pity in the viewer.
Director Lu Xuechang says he wanted to reflect the basic life of the country's little people; at a press conference Ge You's long-time partner and producer Feng Xiaogang maintans that Cala is a truly big production, rather than the meaningless entertainment of Zhang Yimou's recent Oscar-nominated Hero. And you have to admit, he certainly has a point.
(cityweekend.com.cn February 12, 2004)