China, 2010, colour, 1.85:1, 93 mins.
Director: Zhao Yan Guozhang 赵燕国彰 [Jacky Zhao].
Off-the-wall, very patchy curio centred on love and money in modern-day Shenzhen.
Shenzhen, southern China, the present day. Wealthy divorced businessman Zhao Ling (Zhao Yan Guozhang), an insomniac habitue of night clubs, hires Siya (Wang Ziwen), a dancer at one, to regularly sit with him in a reserved room so he can sleep properly. Zhao Ling eventually proposes marriage to her but Siya says the price of her virginity is RMB200,000. It turns out that she is in love with Tao Ye (Wang Yuzhong), a young potter who fell for her when he heard her story of how she was adopted at the age of 14 when found abandoned at an Yi minority Torch Festival. She helped him with his fledgling business but almost lost him when his mother (Yan Junxi) turned up with an arranged bride, Tian Niu (Zhou Muyang), from his home village. Meawhile, Tao Ye’s best friend from university days, Gang (Zhang Jin), reappeared in his life, on the run from a pimp, Bald Ming (Lin Jinglai), for whom Gang had worked as a trainee gigolo in Thailand. While there, Gang broke one of the terms of his contract with Bald Ming by falling in love – for a wealthy young woman, Luo Qianqian (Wang Xinle), with a tangled background.
The second feature of maverick actor-director Zhao Yan Guozhang 赵燕国彰 [Jacky Zhao] after A Dream of Youth 恰同学少年 (2002), Cool Young 正•青春 is one of those off-the-wall auteurist movies – “experimental” but within a commercial format – that Mainland cinema has regularly thrown up since the 1980s. Originally shot in 2008 but only released three years later in China (after reportedly being held up by negotiations with SARFT), it claims to be the first Mainland film to deal with the world of a nightclub hostess-cum-prostitute 三陪女 but is actually a weird mixture of three narratives told in conflicting, seemingly ironic styles and all concerned with the saving power of money in New China. The finished result veers from a kind of dream-like realism (establishing two of the characters), through broad comedy (a whole section in which an arranged village bride turns up in urban Shenzhen), to heated melodrama (with a doomed love affair and gangsters), with the comedy scored like a Chinese opera and the melodrama like a three-hankie TV drama.
The mixture isn’t particularly successful but has its individual moments and remains curiously watchable, if only for its classy mounting on a technical level and its sheer audacity. (The latter peaks in a Brechtian coda in which two of the cast find an original way to solve a plot problem.) Overall, the movie is mainly interesting for an early role by the then 21-year-old, Sichuan-born actress-model Wang Ziwen (The Dowry 嫁妆, 2008; Aftershock 唐山大地震, 2010; Lee’s Adventure 李献计历险记, 2011; The Great Magician 大魔术师, 2012) who negotiates every kind of emotion in the main female role of club hostess Siya with a beguiling freshness.
Despite giving himself top billing, Zhao has a relatively small supporting role as a benevolent godfather to Siya (and narrator of the whole wacky story). Other performances vary from okay (veteran actress Yan Junxi 严俊熙 , young actor Zhang Jin 张进) to weak (male lead Wang Yuzhong 王玉众). The film was shot under the title Earth and Fire 土与火, referring to the theme of pottery-making that occupies the early going but is ditched later on. The original script is credited to Shenzhen pottery artist Chen Ziguang 陈子光 , who has a cameo.
Produced by Zhao Yan Guo Zhang (Beijing) Movie Culture (CN).
Script: Zhao Yan Guozhang [Jacky Zhao]. Original script: Chen Ziguang. Research: Long Tingyu. Photography: Zhao Yuqing, Zhang Liming. Editing: Zhou Xinxia. Music: Zhu Changyao. Music production: Liu Zhewei. Art direction: Nan Nan. Styling: Cai Shenwang. Sound: Liu Jie, Liu Jia. Action: Zhang Jiarong. Visual effects: Barnaby Bretton.
Cast: Zhao Yan Guozhang [Jacky Zhao] (Zhao Ling), Wang Yuzhong (Tao Ye), Wang Ziwen (Siya), Zhang Jin (Gang, Tao Ye’s friend), Zhou Muyang (Tian Niu), Yan Junxi (Tao Ye’s mother), Wang Xinle (Luo Qianqian, Gang’s lover), Miao Peiliang (young Tao Ye), Wu Xiaomin (vocalist), Lin Jinglai (Bald Ming), Huang Bo (Ma), Hei Zi (Niu), Wang Liao (Wang, assistant in pottery shop), Bin Zi (Hu), Chen Ziguang, Xu Sen, Liang Yong.
Premiere: Chinese American Film Festival, California, 8 Nov 2010.
Release: China, 23 Sep 2011.
(Originally published on Film Business Asia, 11 Apr 2012.)