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October 14, 2006

Where the Great Bull Dies

Seen "Yang Ban Xi – The Eight Model Works", the strange case of a documentary that is almost unbearable to watch, although it deals with an absolutely fascinating subject. It's about Chinese propaganda films from the Sixties, i. e. movie adaptations of the eight ballet operas which were the only form of entertainment officially permitted in China for the ten years of Cultural Revolution. The documentary is excruciatingly boring because the director apparently had no idea where she was going with the movie and she didn't meet any personality strong enough to hold the film together from the inside. Most of the screen time is wasted by shots of people who were to some degree involved in the making or appreciation of these films, giving pale answers to uninteresting questions and then going about their daily business, driving around on their bike, visiting each other and ordering their meals in a restaurant for what seems like bloody five minutes. For some reason, one also gets to see a lot of Chinese youth of today do lots and lots and lots of hiphop to remixes of the old "Yang Ban Xi" propaganda songs. The choreographies are utterly dull, they just make the usual Watts gangsta aerobic moves done to death around the world. Because of all this tedious floundering, all you get to see of the original movies are a few 30 second snippets without context, but these snippets are amazing indeed. You can marvel at male and (rather scantily clad) female members of the Chinese Red Brigades, dancing about "en pointe", in perfectly synchronized, highly stylized movements, waving very red flags and stylized wooden machine guns under fake cherry trees, angrily denouncing foreign capitalist demons, shooting evil landowners with paper hats and then reaching for the sky while an incredibly red sun rises over the horizon of an incredibly kitschy technicolour landscape to the sound of wailing huqins. Most of the actors look like they took LSD for the shoot, there's an otherworldly enthusiasm in their eyes, and a scary frozen grin seems to have been permanently screwed to their cheeks by some extraterrestrial agency. Despite the subtle horror and the utter hilariousness of it all, there’s some strange beauty about this mixture of pronounced fervour and implicit nastiness. It's a real pity that after the film, you still know more or less doodly squat about the phenomenon; but in two years time, this stuff will have a cult following, I guess, so one can watch the originals on DVD, find detailed info on the net, and this bad movie at least will have had some good effects. Or so I hope.


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