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Go For Broke

Go For Broke
Director: Wang Guangli (2001)

More than two years after docudrama specialist Wang Guangli called it a wrap, his refreshingly raw flick about a group of Shanghai lottery winners has landed its permits and a place on mainland screens.

The actors in fact are not actors at all, but former laid-off workers whom Wang tracked down after reading a 1998 newspaper article about their lottery win. During filming, they worked without a script and spoke their native Shanghai tongue. They reenact the true story of a team of down-on-their-luck Chinese breadwinners putting their nose to the grindstone, in the hope of catching the break of their lives.

Go For Broke tells a palpably realistic tale about a most unreal turn of events. The story follows the fate of Zhang Baozhong, caught in throes of China's wrenching transition to a market economy and dumped from his job at a state-owned shipbuilder in 1996. After a few directionless years, he borrows a bundle of cash and persuades several fellow victims of the job squeeze to join him in a construction company.

Having 'xiahai', or jumped into the sea of business, their fortunes crest and crash like waves. Zhang is taken in by a scam, pushing the company to the brink of bankruptcy. Undaunted, the crew pulls itself out of the gutter with a risky renovations project. Wang intersperses 'jump cuts' throughout, packing tension and desire into reflexive movements and everyday exchanges. At one point Wang's camera zeroes in on Zhang, who, leery about returning home as loan sharks await, paces a bridge under a foreboding Shanghai nightscape lit by floodlights, the Pearl TV Tower and the iconic Bund. He instinctively peeks over the rail, checking out the harbor below - one way out of a black hole of debt.

But Wang's gang of naturals generally lean to the lighter side of life, smirking and cavorting with each other on screen. Spontaneous as they can be, the group seems to have a sense things will work out somehow. They end up in a glittery television studio as lucky stars on the set of the Shanghai Welfare Lottery, in stark contrast to gritty streets and dim offices where they spend most of their time.

In his parting shot of another lottery hopeful, Wang creates a hilarious twist on the same Shanghai bridge where Zhang almost met his end.

Go For Broke was made on a shoe-string budget of US$90,000 - chicken feed  in the high-rolling world of movie-making.  Shot using a 35mm camera, there were no lights, no costumes, no set design, and no make-up. Most scenes were shot only once, and the total filming was completed in twelve days. After the making the rounds on the film festival circuit, from Vancouver to Rotterdam, the film has gained a new lease on life with and could hit theatres in Japan and Europe - deservedly so.

(cityweekend.com.cn February 19, 2004)


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