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Frozen: the Underground Counterculture in China

Director: Wang Xiaoshuai (1997)

Independent movies have one thing going for them - they have the ability to surprise audiences by lifting the lid on otherwise hidden aspects of underground culture. The independent Chinese movie Frozen provides such a glimpse into the avant-garde world of modern Beijing, based on the true story of a 23-year-old Chinese performance artist.

In 1994, a young performance artist called Qi Lei (played by Jia Hongsheng) decided to make his final work of art, exploring the subject of death. The piece was comprised of four sections: a burial mound at the beginning of autumn; a drowning at the beginning of winter; a cremation at the beginning of spring; and an ice burial at the beginning of summer.

The first three pieces were completed as simulations of real events; but Qi felt that his work lacked reality, and was lacking in sincerity. He spent days and nights suspended between life and death, deep in the concepts of his art.

Despite the entreaties of his girlfriend (played by Ma Xiaoqing) and sister, Qi decided to make his own actual suicide as his final piece, to be committed on the longest day of the year. He buries himself in a pile of ice, and melts the frozen mass with his own body heat, hoping to die of hypothermia.

His sister, who is a nurse, steps in, and the artist is revived in hospital; the scene then shifts, and Qi reappears in the countryside, living the life of a hermit, before returning to the city to visit friends and family. Back in the city, he quickly falls back into his previous pattern of life, and is bewildered by the defining lines between the real and imaginary worlds. Finally, he is discovered dead lying on the ground on the first day of autumn.

Aside from the alternative doings of young performances who live with Qi Lei, Frozen offers a rare look at the underground counterculture that exists in China. The movie is said to be the personal favorite of the director, Wang Xiaoshuai, who is also behind the recent movie release Beijing Bicycle.

The movie has gathered plaudits from overseas critics, with the Los Angeles Times calling it an "amazing film." Frozen has also won awards in various international movie festivals. Ultimately, as with all independent movies, whether or not it is actually a great film is largely in your attitude to the relative artistry, but overall, Frozen is an accomplished and interesting movie.

(cityweekend.com.cn February 19, 2004)


A Trip Through Wang Xiaoshuai's Film World
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