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Mahjong: New Independent Chinese Cinema

Saturday, November 22, 2008
8:15 p.m. Grain in Ear
Zhang Lu (South Korea/China, 2005)

(Mang zhong). A Chinese filmmaker of Korean descent, Zhang Lu provides a distinct lens into China’s ethnic-minority outsiders with this prizewinner at Cannes, Pesaro, and Pusan. Stuck in a dust-ridden backwater, the Chinese-Korean Soon-hee pushes her illegal kimchi cart from home to road and back again, speaking Korean to her small son and barely at all to her handful of customers. A brief encounter with a fellow Korean speaker may serve to alleviate the boredom, or merely exaserbate her problems. There’s a deadpan humor and beauty in Zhang’s unmoving camera shots and quiet aesthetic, and especially in his juxtaposition of the setting’s downmarket grime, Soon-hee’s silent strength, her son’s sweetness, and her neighbors’ (a gaggle of chatty hookers) vulgarity. “Grain in Ear finds Zhang Lu entering the territory Fassbinder once made his own: melodrama with a social conscience,” notes Tony Rayns. “This is a social-realist fable which illuminates the gap between haves and have-nots in ways that Marx never dreamed of.”

—Jason Sanders

• Written by Zhang. Photographed by Liu Yonghong. With Ji Liu Lian, Bo Jin, Ju Kwang-hyun, Tong Hui Wang. (109 mins, In Mandarin and Korean with English subtitles, Color, 35mm, From Doo Entertainment, with thanks to Doo-young Choi)