So Close to Paradise

"Excellent"

So Close to Paradise Review


When the country of China is mentioned in conversation, it is usually in conjunction with the Great Wall, not its citizens. This film embarks on a remarkable journey through working class China in the late 1980's, as three characters struggle to help each other in a nation still trying to get to its feet.

The plot is simple, allowing the characters the attention they deserve. Dong Zi (Shi Yu) comes to the city from the countryside because of the opportunity to make money. He earns an honest living as a petty "shoulder pole" on the docks and is permitted to crash with Gao Ping (Guo Tao), an older gentleman and self-proclaimed businessman who tries to show him the ropes because they are from the same town. But Gao has a vendetta against a man who cheated him out of money. Though he dresses better and lives a fuller life than Dong, he is none the happier for doing so.

Dong follows Gao everywhere as he tries to adapt to city life. The pair divide, however, after Dong helps kidnap Ruan Hong (Wang Tong), a nightclub singer whom Gao believes to be associated with the past partner who cheated him. Dong shies away further as Gao and Ruan begin to have an affair.

The lovers' relationship doesn't last for long as Ruan still doesn't divulge information on the man Gao is seeking. Ruan leaves when Gao treats her like a prostitute, but does scratch a note to him as to where to find the man he has been obsessed with. Gao is then nowhere to be found for days. Dong continues to keep tabs on Ruan, and even records her singing at the club without her knowledge. They strike up a quietly uncomfortable friendship as he actually listens to her instead of just wanting to take her to bed, pretty though she is.

Amidst this starkly built emotional tide is the backdrop of an unconvincingly confident government-controlled media versus the rampant crime perpetrated by a character simply referred to as "The Boss." The Boss has thugs everywhere to keep innocents like Ruan and Dong in check, and no amount of television reporters that the government encourages helps them feel safe.

It's easy to understand why this was an Official Selection at Cannes two years ago. Xiaoshuai brings poignant body language out of his actors, Shi Yu and Wang Tong, both of whom are making their feature debut. The script is kept tight at 90 minutes, most of which lacks dialogue and allows the camera to linger on the characters within the sparse possibilities of their environment. There may not be much in the way of physical action, but eyes are still glued to the screen because anything could happen to this sympathetic threesome.

There are minimal drawbacks to this film. Xiaoshuai makes a habit of extending emotional tones after a scene has made a point. It's acceptable to do this several times in a film, but not one scene after another and another. Luckily the characters are interesting enough that this tedious routine can be excused.

The political overtones, though laughable at first, round out the movie by providing the context to which these desperate lives are able to continue their vicious cycle. It's understandable why Gao attempts to seek his fortune on the sly, but just as believable that Dong would try the honest way in reaction to his role model's difficulties. This is not an environment strictly based on right and wrong, but once you have chosen one path it seems impossible to change course.

Aka Biandan, guniang.

So close, yet so far.



So Close to Paradise

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 10th December 1998

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 40%
Fresh: 2 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 6.7 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Yu Shi as Dongzi, Tong Wang as Ruan Hong

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