Saturday, September 26, 2009

Building a Country: Great Work if You Can Get It

If you haven't already heard (i.e. if you live anywhere except China), this October 1st marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. 60 year anniversaries are especially important for Chinese people because the zodiac repeats in 60-year cycles, so the age of 60 represents a spiritual rebirth into a new adulthood.

Or something like that. All you need to know is that China is freaking. the. eff. out. The China Daily (remember?) only runs two types of front page pictures these days: smiling pictures of Hu Jintao and pictures of people smiling about the anniversary. An article yesterday talked about how marching in the Tian'anmen parade on the 1st is the "opportunity of a lifetime." (Brief China Daily aside: favorite front page headline from yesterday was "Anti-panda tirade of bat fan slammed".)

So last night Gus and I went to see the movie《建国大业》(lit. "the great work of building a country"; English title "The Founding of a Republic"), a state-funded hagiographic account of the end of the Chinese civil war and the origins of the PRC.

It was really, truly fantastic(ly awful). For starters, it certainly had the highest production values of any propaganda film that I've ever seen. (Better luck next time, Oliver Stone's World Trade Center!) Huge crowd scenes, big CGI reproductions of battles, and lots of location shooting. They obviously spent a ton of money on this movie, but I guess they're making it back, because a ticket cost me approximately as much as the food I consume in a normal day. I counted at least 15 showings a day at the theater we went to, so I think they're banking on this being a Huge Event.

It also featured essentially every Chinese actor you've ever heard of, including Jackie Chan and Jet Li. Jackie Chan's part was especially funny, because he can't speak Mandarin, so he needed to deliver his lines in Cantonese. What an idiot! But he was in the movie for about 45 seconds, and he played a reporter who didn't kick his interview subject in the kidneys, even though you could tell he wanted to.

Speaking of Cantonese/Mandarin, Gus and I were surprised and pleased to see that the movie had English subtitles. We were not expecting that. Thank God that they had subtitles, though, because even with the English the movie was largely incoherent. Everyone in China knows the story of this founding, so the film's exposition lurched from Big Famous Moment to Big Famous Moment. Most of these moments were punctuated by black and white photography, slow motion, or both. And montages. So many stirring montages. If I ever have to see one more montage of people cheering as Mao cries in awe, I'm going to shoot myself and/or send myself to the Great Northern Wilderness to starve in a re-education camp.

Anyway, the movie was actually fairly entertaining. I was worried that I was going to turn commie after seeing it, so I bought some Peanut M&Ms at the supermarket before the movie. Nothing makes you feel like a capitalist like chocolate. They were really delicious, and, if I squinted hard enough, I could pretend that this was just Michael Bay's latest inept offering, and I could pretend I was at home.

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Two more unrelated notes:

1. Today's featured article on Wikipedia is Boy Scouts of American membership controversies. The first paragraph says that the policies which "prohibit atheists, agnostics, and 'known or avowed' homosexuals" are "considered by some to be unfair." This seems to me to be putting it mildly.

2. I'm trying to decorate my room, which is hard when all your walls are concrete. The first thing I put up was a "In the Mood for Love" poster near my desk, which sort of seems like a sick joke. But it keeps falling down, so I guess it's appropriate after all.