April 27, 2009
Good Cats, 2008
Something like Jia Zhang-ke's portraits of contemporary China by way of Hou Hsiao-hsien's stationary long shots and sense of landscape, Good Cats returns to the hybrid fiction of Ying Liang's previous film, The Other Half to capture the dislocation and moral vacuum left in the wake of China's rapid economic development. Similar to The Other Half, Good Cats is also set in Ying's hometown of Zigong, and like his earlier film, a frontal shot of the main character being questioned by an unseen interviewer also serves as the opening sequence (in this case, by a fortune teller looking to glean information for his palm reading), reflecting the interrogative nature of Ying's gaze. However, inasmuch as Ying frames the estrangement in The Other Half from a native point of view, the sense of displacement in Good Cats is also a geographic one - embodied by underemployed 29 year old, Luo Liang who works as a driver for light bulb salesman turned real estate investor, Boss Peng (his provincial upbringing is suggested in an early episode in which his co-workers tease him for not being able to eat spicy Sichuan cuisine), and also the villagers protesting their eviction from a tract of land that Boss Peng has targeted for redevelopment (in a tacit agreement with corrupt village chief Zong). Living in a dilapidated, gas-leak prone apartment with his over-critical wife (who, along with her parents, hound him to go to night school in order to land a more prestigious and financially secure job), continuing to support his neighbor and former mentor, Liu Xiaopei who has fallen into hard times, and assisting with the murky dealings of his increasingly unstable employer, Luo Liang is a marginal bystander to the country's alienating transformation - a figurative impotence that is reinforced in his extended family's strong arm attempts to goad him into starting a family as a means of saving face within their ancestral community. Moreover, Luo Liang's disconnection from his intrusive extended family also exposes a sense of rootlessness that reveal a broader cultural malaise - a despritualization that is suggested in the surreal shot of Luo Liang and Boss Peng impounding the disarticulated head of a Buddha statue into the back of a pickup truck as collateral for an overdue loan (in an absurdist convergence of spirituality and economics that recalls the failed crucifix venture of Roy Andersson's Songs from the Second Floor). Framed in the context of Luo Liang staggering through a communal farm, his instinctual quest to return home becomes a potent image of marginalized struggle and uprooted ideology.