An MBC Production/Mirovision presentation of an Asparas Films & TV Prods. production, in association with Melange, Flying Tiger Pictures, Mirovision, with participation of I Pictures. (International sales: Mirovision, Seoul.) Produced by Deng Ye. Executive producers, Jongsoo Choi, Jason Chae. Co-producers, Michel Reilhac, Ellen Klm, Chae.
Directed by Liu Bingjian. Screenplay, Liu, Deng Ye. Camera (color), Xu Wei; editor, Zhou Ying; music, Dong Liqiang; art director, Liu Liguo; sound (Dolby SR), Zhu Xiaojin. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 18, 2002. Running time: 91 MIN.
With: Liao Qin, Wei Xingkun, Zhu Jiayue, Li Longjun, Wen Qing, Wu Shengti. (Mandarin & Guizhou dialect)
Left on her own to make a living in rural China, a young wife finds professional mourning a lucrative business in "Cry Woman," a small-scale but accessible production that should slide easily into festival slots and specialized webs showcasing world cinema. Third feature from mainland Chinese helmer Lin Bingjian, best known for the ironic look at homosexuality, "Men & Women" (1999), is his most polished pic to date, and a marvelously true portrait of contempo mainland life in all its contradictions, both humorous and hard.
Though shot in China, the film was officially made by Vancouver-registered Asparas Films, largely with South Korean coin, after the script was officially rejected by Chinese authorities. Liu's previous two features were both refused distribution certificates, though "Men & Women" attended a large number of overseas fests.
The feisty Wang Guixiang (Liao Qin) scrapes by making a living hawking pirate VCDs and DVDs on the streets of Beijing. One day, when she's also looking after the young daughter (Zhu Jiayue) of some friends, her life changes: her wares are confiscated by police, the friends skip town and abandon their kid, and her husband, Xu Changgeng (Li Longjun), is arrested after he blinds a fellow gambler (Wu Shengli) in a mahjong game.
Guixiang is shipped back to her native province, Guizhou, by the cops, while Changgeng is put in jail. Still unable to trace the young kid's parents, Guixiang gets the help of a former b.f., Li Youming (Wei Xingkun), who's now married but helps her find the child some foster parents.
When the gambler with the damaged eye comes around demanding compensation and gives her two months to raise the dough, Guixiang breaks down in a theatrical lament. This gives Youming--who by now has taken up again with Guixiang--the idea of her going into the professional mourner business.
Film, largely worked out on location with the actors, has some peripheral humor with the idea of Youming touring the local hospital and scanning the newspapers for imminent deaths they can service. And one very funny scene has them in the sack when the news breaks on TV that someone has died, bringing an abrupt end to their coitus with a cry of, "We're in business!"
But just when the movie looks like it's becoming a Chinese riff on black comedies like "Undertaker's Paradise" or "Happy Funeral Director," the focus returns to Guixiang herself, as she ruthlessly makes a living to pay off her creditors and bail her hubby out of prison. However, nothing works out as expected, and Guixiang finds it's a hard, lonely world out there, especially if you're minting yuan out of others' grief.
Pic's message is, in fact, conservative for today's China: that making money is far easier than finding emotional fulfillment. Portrait both of Belling life at the start and of small-town provincial life thereafter rings utterly true. Pic has an easy tempo, and none of the self-conscious alienation that afflicts many Chinese indies.
Lensing of the Guizhou locations by d.p. Xu Wei is crisp and well-composed without being postcardy, and Liu's visual style, apart from being spare with closeups, is free of arty tics.
Driving the film is a terrific performance by screen newcomer Liao (a real-life Peking Opera performer) as the title character. Entirely believable as a driven, streetwise young woman who would sing a heartbreaking funeral lament one minute and casually strip off to service a prison governor the next, Liao recalls more established actresses like Tao Hong with her tough-but-tender trashiness. As her former b.f. who's happy to do business with her but not tie the knot, Wei is quietly supportive.