It’s patterns what the eyes are searching for when seeing film.
Patterns create form. David Bordwell argues in Film Art that artworks of any kind “arouse and gratify our human craving for form”. By film form he means “the overall system of relations that we can perceive among the elements in the whole film”.
Sometimes, watching Asian films is like looking for patterns on the moon. It’s magnificent, tiresome and at times inches so close to a sort of fundamental planetary Truth that you shiver.
Bi Gan, the director of Kaili Blues is boyish looking but tough. And 26. In an interview from Liberation he argues that he became drawn to film as a means of expression because he liked animals a lot and wanted to film them.
Kaili Blues is a film about a province doctor, who searches for his nephew, who got sold by his father. Plot becomes secondary as we quickly discover that it’s all about the weight the film places behind form and pattern:
- editing is Bi Gan’s main tool, forming and deforming story space and story time and introducing a high density story elements (a lost cassette tape on a trip to a long gone lover, a white dog, a pair of binoculars).
- ambient sound is all over us, linking scene to scene, emotional states.
- restricted narration leaves you gasping for clues; you end up abandoning the fight, giving up; you’re being served with a faint hint in the last 5 minutes of the film, that brings a massive release
- single 40 minute take in the middle of the film is unexpected, intriguing, useless and of great effect. Form is broken to pieces, expectations recreated, no time to breathe
- sequences of poetry, written by the director himself, recited in a tone soaked in deep fried regret.
Motifs give unity! TIME - lost time, clocks, watches, a mafia boss turned watchmaker or seller, regret, lost love, surreal last scene involving a painted counterclockwise moving watch. DEAD/MISSING PEOPLE: old lover lost in the Cultural Revolution, wife dead after man comes from prison, mobster dreaming of buried-alive-dead-son, old music players no longer alive, young kid sold away, half brother lost to gaming.
Young directors are bold and at times explicit. I’ll take Bi Gan over Xavier Dolan for his deep connection to grand themes.
Kaili Blues - A Chinese Macondo