Thursday, February 09, 2006

I completed a chapter of 'Silkworms and Snow' yesterday morning and posted it to the Write Words website, the online writers' group I subscribe to.

In the afternoon I went to the Dockland Museum for a screening of a 1959 film called 'The Lin Family Shop'. This is the first of several films I'll be seeing as part of a series in an event called 'Shanghai on Screen', organised by the Chinese Cultural Centre. I was associated with this in the past, having introduced a couple of screenings when a film festival was held at The Barbican in, I think, 2000.

Here's a review of the film I wrote this morning:

The Lin Family Shop Dir: Shui Hua 1959

This story of social melt-down begins in 1931 just after the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. In a small southern town to a spoilt shopkeeper’s daughter is criticised in the street by her classmates for her father’s selling of Japanese goods. More concerned with her appearance than any larger social or family obligations, the girl throws a kitten off the bed, in an act which prefigures the small family’s fate in the ensuing story. An intimate mise-en-scene is created by mid-shots of characters in cramped domestic spaces and views of narrow streets and busy canals, drawing us into the web of credit and debit relationships which underpin Mr Lin’s business. He is in debt to bank, his landlady and his supplier, as well as neighbours who have invested their pittances in return for interest. In this world people pay late and demand early. With a wife and teenage daughter as well as three shop workers relying on him for their livelihood, distant political events force Lin into desperate measures; when a local bigwig takes a shine to his daughter it only compounds his problems. The narrow alleyways and decaying canal side dwellings of a small town in Zhejiang Province in 1931, provides a claustrophobic backdrop to events, with falling snow adding ironically pretty detail to the dog-eat-dog world of competitors, demanding landlords and stone-faced bankers. Reassurances are quickly followed by betrayal and no-one can be trusted. Whilst her husband lives to the constant clack of the abacus, the mother relies on prayers and offerings to the goddess of good fortune. Meantime tension is ratcheted by reports of the ever advancing army and the threat of collapse of the social order. Adapted from a novel by a well-known supporter of Mao’s socialism, the film was criticised at the time of its release in 1959 for a too sympathetic representation of the lead character, whose anxiety is given much depth by Xie Tan’s subtle playing. However, the film’s focus is less on human failings than on a flawed economic system. The histrionics of the ending seem contrived, with victims trampled in a police dispersal charge in an otherwise compelling portrait of a doomed social milieu.

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