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The Other Half (Ling yi ban)

By Scrymarch in Culture
Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: Movies, China (all tags)

Industrialisation begets social realism as nights beget drunken binges. Now that the world has outsourced its industry to China, its young directors are finding they can pan a digital camera down a city street at random and come back with a distinctive look of dust smudged by polluted haze. Such is director Ying Liang's latest film, The Other Half, which is fascinating and infuriating by turns. He spoke after the showing I saw, with a surprising perspective on making these kind of films in China today.

Set and shot in Zigong, The Other Half follows 22 year old Zeng Xiaofen (Zeng Xiaofei); at work as a transcriber for a law firm, and at home with or without her drunken loser boyfriend Deng Gang. Much of the film consists of legal cases she transcribes. Based on real cases, they are compelling in a way that's half anthropological, half newspaper personal column. Outside of work Xiaofen slumps around town with coughing torpor, between a nagging mother and a handful of similarly ground down friends. (One of these performs the most wonderfully half-hearted strip tease in cinema history; unfortunately I can't find a proper list of credits.) These scenes are generally harder to watch; like Jia Zhangke in Unknown Pleasures Ying Liang seems to be trying to film boredom. Though not boring, they're not strictly enjoyable or enlightening either.

Ying doesn't need to foreground the social commentary in a film like this, the camera and the radio news do it for him. Even the more dramatic events in the finale, involving an industrial accident, simply require a relocation of news events from Haerbin to Zigong. People have suggested these films are about urban malaise, but I think that's a mistranslated European view. Films about the unemployment in the Paris outer suburbs are about malaise. Though China has plenty of unemployment, this is about a country, and people, working so hard to be rich, and once-again-powerful, that families scatter across the country and the air and water is filled with muck. If you want metaphors for this in The Other Half, there's too many to count. I liked the woman who went away to make money, and spent it on expensive shirts for her husband. When she came back, he wanted a divorce, and she comes to the lawyer's office with two suitcases full of shirts. The court ordered me to give them back, she says, as personal effects, but damned if I will.

At the questions afterwards Ying was asked about the cost of the film and the difficulties of getting it made and distributed in the PRC. It cost around 6000 Euros to make. That's twice as much as his first film, where he had to borrow the video camera. So they used all the low budget tricks they could, like getting empty streets by shooting at 4am. It was shot on DV and edited on a PC.

On distribution and censorship, he said the government basically takes no interest in a low budget film like this, distributed on DVD. Presumably it would be different if the low budget film was made by the Falun Dafa Xinjiang Liberation front. He said though cinema distribution is a different matter, most people in China are watching films on DVD nowadays, even banned films. It occurs to me that this is one of the reasons China is ultimately happy to follow the WTO IP regulations and limit DVD piracy. Even if they don't bother to suppress piracy in practice, as with internet cafes, the legal grey area advantages the state. The government can launch raids whenever something annoys them, confident in the knowledge that almost everyone is already guilty.

Nevertheless it's heartening to see expression like this continue to come out of China, and in that sense The Other Half is a gritty, downbeat, cinema verite ray of sunshine.


Interview with Ying Liang about his first film. The Other Half is on the festival circuit at the moment, coming at an intermittent and unpredictable time to an obscure arthouse cinema not particularly near you.


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Related Links
o Zigong
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The Other Half (Ling yi ban) | 20 comments (13 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
So it's boredom... (3.00 / 7) (#3)
by WonderJoust on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 02:10:25 PM EST

...on a shoestring budget...

...in a foriegn language...

...that I'll probably never even be able to see.

Can you yawn wide enough to dislocate your jaw? I bet I know how you can find out.

i like your style: bitter, without being a complete cunt about it.
-birds ate my face

sounds like astroturf (none / 1) (#4)
by circletimessquare on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 02:50:20 PM EST

but it's about the cinema, which is my religion, so +1 fp because its cinema-related astroturfing

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

For what it's worth (3.00 / 3) (#9)
by Scrymarch on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 09:07:15 PM EST

... I don't have any connection to the film or its makers, other than watching it.

I do have to admit I was disappointed by the low quota of Filipino vampires running amok in New York though.

[ Parent ]

Excellent review (3.00 / 2) (#5)
by nostalgiphile on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 05:26:58 PM EST

A few weeks ago (?) I was actually thinking I'd like to see The Other Half, which I heard about on the SIFF website along w/abuncha other interesting sounding films (e.g., Ryuichi Hiroki's "M"). Now I know I shouldn't, although your review is quite good.

Thing is, I'm honestly sick of a certain species of touchy feely, warm-hearted social realist PRC films (Thinking of Beijing Bicycle, Not one less, etc.) that I suspect this film might belong to. They're often just vehicles for apologizing for the status quo and making you feel all warm and cozy about living with it, I think.

Also: in Chinese "Ling yiban" means "spouse," as in "better half". Not sure if teh foreign devils got that because the title trans. is annoyingly literal.

+1FP, nice work.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
Cheers (none / 1) (#10)
by Scrymarch on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 09:23:16 PM EST

It's definitely less touchy-feely and upbeat than Beijing Bicycle. I agree the PRC government must see films like this as a release valve of sorts, but this skirts a fair bit closer to the line than a number I've seen. Eg one of the scenes in the lawyer's office is of the boss of the benzene plant getting advice about his female employees suing the plant over miscarriages and birth defects. The radio news articles are all about local companies getting commendations for their environmental practices, and then the last act has the industrial accident I mentioned.

[ Parent ]
excellent Scrymarch, (1.33 / 3) (#6)
by mybostinks on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 08:24:12 PM EST

FP from me too.

interesting subject..well done imo..+1FP (none / 1) (#7)
by dakini on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 08:29:20 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
-1, no mention of Chinese Lesbian sex [nt] (2.00 / 5) (#12)
by Peahippo on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 10:46:03 PM EST

Re: Chinese lesbian sex (3.00 / 3) (#15)
by nostalgiphile on Tue May 01, 2007 at 01:22:28 AM EST

I'd vote that up.

"Depending on your perspective you are an optimist or a pessimist[,] and a hopeless one too." --trhurler
[ Parent ]
But what about the high-speed car chase? (3.00 / 5) (#13)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 11:23:38 PM EST

What good is a movie without a car chase?

Looking for some free songs?

You forgot the most important part... (3.00 / 4) (#14)
by The Amazing Idiot on Tue May 01, 2007 at 01:01:23 AM EST

Where's the bittorrent link?

I'm waiting 1 day to vote. If there's a post to me regarding links to the movies, it gets +1 FP. If not, -1 "havent watched".

I was going to vote +1SP... (none / 0) (#19)
by mirleid on Wed May 02, 2007 at 03:21:46 AM EST

...but then read the comments. M Twatford's comment on car chases made me vote +1FP. If this makes it to the front page, you should actually thank him...

Chickens don't give milk
In case you were looking for this movie... (none / 1) (#20)
by jungleboogie on Sun May 06, 2007 at 11:29:15 PM EST

http://www.newtorrents.info/down.php?p=The.Other.Half.2005.LiMiTED.DVDRip.XviD-A FO_[www.NewTorrents.info].torrent

The Other Half (Ling yi ban) | 20 comments (13 topical, 7 editorial, 0 hidden)
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