Films: The High Life

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The High Life  {Xun huan zuo le}

The High Life
Xun huan zuo le

China, 2010, 96 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: Asian, Drama, Social Issues
Program: Contemporary World Cinema
Language: Cantonese, Mandarin English Subtitles

DIRECTOR: Zhao Dayong
Producer: David Bandurski, Zhao Dayong
Editor: Zhao Dayong, Wei Chunyi
Screenwriter: Zhao Dayong
Cinematographer: Xue Gang
Principal Cast: Qiu Hong, Liu Yanfei, Shen Shaoqiu, Su Qingyi, Diao Lei

Award-winning documentary filmmaker Zhao Dayong makes his first foray into fiction in this bleak but absorbing look at a cross-section of Chinese city life. From the fluttering robes of a rooftop dancer to the chirpy colors of a young woman’s trendy outfit against the grimy walls of a massage parlor, Zhao’s genius for capturing precisely the vivid details of a decaying slum stands in sharp contrast to his shifting, ambiguous perspective on modern-day morality.

The opening scenes focus on Jian Ming, a petty street hustler with ties to a crime syndicate, whose casual acceptance of dishonesty, detachment, and greed informs a virtual case study of the rootless youth who populate the sprawling and corrupt city. But when Jian ends up in jail, the focus shifts to a prison guard (played by real-life police officer and poet Shen Shaoqiu) who alternates between an absurd authoritative stance—he forces the inmates to read poetry, for instance—and off-handed acts of subtle kindness.

While their destinations remain unclear, the branching paths of the characters are dotted with random scraps of tradition, art, and an empathy that they cling to in a desperate attempt to remain connected. Zhao uses what little grace and beauty that survives amid the squalor to kindle something small and hopeful in an otherwise hopeless existence.

Sponsored by Asian Art Coordinating Council

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