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The Postmodern Life of My Aunt
    2007-03-21 16:53:32     CRIENGLISH.com
Blending humanist cinema with the spirit of Chinese opera, renowned Chinese director Ann Hui has brought us her latest movie, "The Postmodern Life of My Aunt". Taking a humorous look at today's China, this movie is a balance of wit and soul, of comedy and tragedy.

Our reporter Wu Jia has the whole story.

Based on a popular novel, the film "The Postmodern Life of My Aunt" tells the story of Ye Rutang, an old-fashioned single woman in her sixties. She struggles to maintain a dignified life amid the dangers of Shanghai, a city that attracts all kinds of con-artists.

Ye Rutang lives in her Shanghai apartment. People of her generation were brought up to be kind, courteous, egalitarian and socially responsible. But faced with the 21st century, Ye Rutang is like a fish out of water. Her skills and attitudes are so old-fashioned that she finds it impossible to keep a job, and she is constantly strapped for cash.

However, her problems really begin with her twelve-year-old nephew Kuan-kuan moves into her apartment after he broke his leg in an accident. Kuan-kuan can't bear the aunt's stinginess, so he fakes his own kidnapping in order to get ransom money.

Things only get worse for Ye Rutang when she meets the charming con-man Pan Zhichang. He meets her in the park, singing opera with other enthusiastic amateurs, and sweeps her off her feet with a mixture of classical poetry and flattery. Eventually he draws her into an elaborate scam to try and trick Ye Rutang out of her meager savings. Although she sends him packing in the end, she finds her life changed by this unexpected autumnal romance.

One more person comes along to exploit Ye Rutang's goodwill. A woman introduces herself as the abused wife of a laborer, and Ye Rutang hires her as a live-in housekeeper. Our leading lady decides to throw her out of the house when she sees her faking a street accident and demanding compensation.

Through these experiences, Ye Rutang not only loses her money, but she also begins to lose faith in human kindness.

One day, to make matters even worse, she accidentally falls down the steps of an overpass. In the hospital with a broken arm and leg, she is visited by her daughter, who come all the way from their hometown Liaoning in northeast China. Up until this point in the film, Ye Rutang had always claimed her daughter had a successful life in Los Angeles. Now, she is confronted by a daughter she hadnt seen for twelve years, who also has not forgiven Ye Rutang for divorcing her husband and fleeing to Shanghai.

The closing scenes are set in Anshan, a post-industrial city in Liaoning. Ye Rutang has moved there and is living with her boorish ex-husband and her daughter in a small, shabby apartment.

Beautifully penned by Li Qiang, one of China's greatest scriptwriting talents, "The Postmodern Life of My Aunt" is engaging and elegant. Screenwriter Li Qiang says in this work he has his own interpretation for the word "postmodern".

"The current age has witnessed a blending of various styles or we can say various cultures. Since times are changing, everything is developing and changing. Various styles have to get along with one another, but throughout this process, contradictions are inevitable. 'Postmodern' in the title of the movie just refers to such a state."

Hong Kong director Ann Hui says she purposely staged the story of Ye Rutang in a precise cultural moment, a time where the past seems to carry meaning only in the stubborn memories of individuals.

"I want the aunt's story to remind people to do some meditation on their own life: as society progresses, what changes have they experienced personally? Is their original ambition or life attitude still the same? I think middle-aged people and seniors will feel they have a lot in common with this character."

The director adds that, upon first impression, audiences may regard the film as a comedy. After fully absorbing the story, however, they will understand the tragic elements.

"People are always at a loss when confronted by life's conflicts. Even I don't want to face the bitterness of life. Anyway, this movie shows the way real life has always been, full of laughter and tears."

This movie not only boasts a renowned director and screenwriter, but also features a first-class cast of Chinese actors, including veteran actress Siqin Gaowa, Hong Kong star Chow Yun-fat, and Chinese actress Zhao Wei.

When describing her role as Ye Rutang, actress Siqin Gaowa says her portrayal of the aunt, who struggles through so many twists and turns, is a reflection of the film's director and herself.

"This film's director is the best example of the aunt. She is very serious in her work and careless about trivial things in life. As for myself, I know I sometimes feel like the aunt does: out-of-date and bewildered and distressed."

Siqin Gaowa says despite her character's failures, she appreciates the fact that Ye Rutang is not afraid to speak out against uncivilized social behaviors.

To prepare for her role, Siqin Gaowa spent a long time learning the Shanghai dialect in order to make the character image more vivid.

Chow Yun-fat is just one famous addition to the powerhouse cast. Since he usually plays the hero in movies like "crouching tiger, hidden dragon", this role of the swindler was a challenge.

Let's meet his character.

"My whole life, I have only been interested in beautiful things, beautiful women, beautiful sceneries and the delicacies life has to offer. As for those things that are not beautiful, I cannot even bear to look at them."

Since his character is also an amateur opera fan, Chow Yun-fat learned Peking opera. (Play Opera)

Zhao Wei played the aunt's daughter. She remembers when she first saw the script.

"I found it was just a small part. There were only a few lines for me. But when it came time to shoot, I saw there were many things for me to learn. First of all, the girl I play is from northeast China. I had to learn their accent. And she's an irritable girl. I also learned to shout abuses in the street. Oh, by the way, I also learned how to cook for this part."

Director Ann Hui is grateful for the professionalism of her all-star cast, who setting aside their glamorous images to play breakthrough roles in the film.

In November of last year, the film received nominations for Best Screenplay Adaptation, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress at the 43rd Taiwan Golden Horse Film Awards.

Ever since its release in Hong Kong and Beijing theaters early this March, the movie has received widespread acclaim. Some have praised its vivid account of the hardships of modern life, while others focus on its depiction of a person who persists through disappointments and finally learns to compromise.

As for me, I'm most impressed by the Mongolian actress Siqin Gaowa's ability to speak Mandarin with an authentic-sounding Shanghai accent.

Don't miss the chance to see this movie while it's still on screen in cinemas.


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