Beijing Flickers (4 stars)

Beijing Flickers

A poetic expression of China's disenfranchised youth from director Zhang Yuan

Director Zhang Yuan’s work has dealt on numerous occasions with the themes of alienation and rejection. Twenty years after Beijing Bastards, this new feature (based on his photo/video exhibition ‘Unspoiled Brats’) offers a fresh outlook on Chinese youth’s disaffection.

The film follows the life of factory worker San Bao who has been abandoned by both his dog (ironically named ‘Lucky’) and his girlfriend, who has left him for a richer man. To make things worse, he has just lost his job. In an act of drunken desperation he eats a glass and ends up in hospital.

Unable to utter a word, San Bao becomes the viewers’ eyes and ears as he encounters similarly distraught young characters that the city has crushed: a transvestite obsessed with plastic surgery; an unlucky-in-love parking valet; a disgruntled rock singer abandoned by her band. The film poetically exposes China’s growing inequality as Zhang adds layers to the chararcters' misadventures in a increasingly sinful city where money rules and human decency is perverted.

San Bao’s muteness is an effective metaphor for the powerless youth on the fringes of society but this imposed silence does put a strain on the film’s rhythm. That said, despite the bleakness of the film's themes, Zhang successfully balances the comic, melodramatic and poetic in such a way that a sense of hope is created for the four characters.

Shot in an city in constant evolution where traditional houses are torn down to make way for cement forests of skyscrapers, Beijing Flickers’ tone and cinematographic quality reveals a new China, one rarely seen on the news. Zhang’s message is universal: whether in Beijing, London or Edinburgh, one should turn to friends in times of adversity.

Screening at Filmhouse, Thu 20 & Sat 22 Jun, as part of Edinburgh International Film Festival 2013.

Beijing Flickers - Trailer

Beijing Flickers (You-Zhing)

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • China
  • 1h 36min
  • Directed by: Yuan Zhang
  • Written by: Yuan Zhang

Chinese drama about an unlucky man whose life falls apart, spurring him to gather a collection of likeminded followers.