Beijing Blues

(China, 2012)
New York Premiere
115 minutes, DCP, in Mandarin with English subtitles
Directed by: Gao Qunshu
Starring: Zhang Lixian, Wang Xiaoshan, Ning Caishen, Gu Xiaobai

Beijing never changes. In a congested city of winter rain, endless storefronts, and half-finished housing projects, all a bone-tired beat cop sees day after day is pickpockets, accident scammers, and fortune tellers promising the lonely a little happiness. By twilight it’s time to get drunk, shoot the shit and sing all the old songs the ungrateful young don’t know the words to. But somewhere in the shadows, an old foe is waiting with a hero’s challenge: one more shot at the glory days that might just turn this city upside-down.

Four years ago, NYAFF brought you director Gao Qunshu’s Old Fish, a nail-biting docudrama about a bomb disposal squad featuring non-actors and real cops and set in the urban slums of mainland China. After the success of that film, Gao went off and co-helmed the posh, big-budget war epic The Message. Now he’s back to basics with BEIJING BLUES. a deadpan, episodic police procedural with a delicate, gossamer throughline.

Beijing is the star of BEIJING BLUES, and this time, Gao’s ensemble of hundreds is made up of homegrown celebrities — from civilians to government functionaries, from security guards to street musicians — all culled from the ranks of China’s mega-popular “Sina Weibo” microblogging service. It’s neorealism for the digital age. Fascinated by the thin line between reality and the lightest of fictions, Gao weaves layer upon layer of reflexivity by utilizing mixed media — minicams, city CCTV, even television crews.

Journalist-turned-blogger Zhang Lixian is our anchor in the city, playing a diabetic, asthmatic, middle-aged detective who is tired of climbing up all those damn stairs. He doesn’t get the big cases, and instead what he faces every day are the petty crooks and repeat offenders, many of whom make up the fabric of his district and its community. His relationship with the city itself is ancient, symbiotic, weathered into his cells. All he wants is a single break. In the end, his quest for one big bust comes down to two old men leaning on canes for support as a frostbitten metropolis and its people take flight around them. Haidian District is a place where a cop gives a crippled crook his bonus because in the end, in this cold patchwork city, they’re all in it together. This will be Zhang’s life year after year, fighting against negative energy to the strains of melancholy Mandopop love songs, streaming and broadcasting at the languid speed of life.

Tuesday July 9, 4:30PM Walter Reade Theater Buy Tickets