No bad wolf in ‘The Red Jacket’
Last updated 1-22-09 at 8:08 p.m.
By Andrew Hamlin
Northwest Asian Weekly
It’s obscure that the Internet Movie Database doesn’t have a listing for the Chinese film, “The Red Jacket,” which takes part in the Children’s Film Festival at Northwest Film Forum. It deserves as many watchers as possible.
As the film’s press release states, the cast may be “far from the professional.” This is director Yalin Zou’s first feature film. However, working as a team, the film’s inspired amateurs create naturalistic miracles.
The red jacket, from the title, hangs in a merchant’s booth in the village square. A little girl, Cui Ju, visits the square with her granny. Cui Ju sees and wants the red jacket desperately. Her best friend, Xiang, already has the same kind.
Cui Ju’s father is dead. Her mother is far away working “outside,” as the subtitles put it, and won’t be back anytime soon. Granny is too poor to keep the family home in good repair, let alone buy a new “brand” jacket for her demanding granddaughter. From this dramatic tension, an evocative character and cultural study starts to emerge.
“The funding for this film is from individuals,” states the film’s press release. “All the producers are not professional and are the first time to be producers.”
The release also states that “all the major actresses are from the village [Miao village, of Guizhou province, where the film was shot]. … They had never imagined they would be in the movie, but they did an excellent job in the film.”
The English translations in the film’s subtitles sometimes go amusingly haywire. But the film contains enough comprehensible accuracy and beauty to compel attention.
Miao village appears as a small settlement nestled against a backdrop of an enormous mountain range. We see the characters both up close and as small specks against this enormous panoramic of nature. Regardless of what happens at the village, these looming, larger forces command respect.
Congruently, when Granny and Cui Ju visit the village, the camera always keeps villagers in the background, as they go about their errands. The interaction between the two females — one frail but resilient, the other naive but energetic — takes the foreground. But the larger scope of the village life plays a significant role.
The composition of vibrant colors also helps to strengthen the film’s focus on contrasts. For example, a path made of white stones goes through a field of green grass, and the villager’s dark blue jackets clashes with their bright woven back-baskets. These examples symbolically reinforce both the differences and similarities between the two females, who are three generations apart.
Cui Ju can throw agonizing temper tantrums. Granny rebukes her severely. But they always cling to each other after these emotional storms pass. On the way home from the market, Granny pauses to teach Cui Ju a melody. The old woman’s wavering tones weave around the little girl’s piping, prepubescent voice, which join to form a singular song.
At the end, Cui Ju makes her way home from the village alone. She doesn’t have the red jacket. She holds a bright, bobbing balloon, and one of Granny’s precious silver earrings. What does the balloon and the earring symbolize? I’ll leave that for you to find out. But the brightness of the balloon melds with the stone path, the snowy landscape, and the mountains. Cui Ju makes the right decision. She restores healthy color, balance, and harmony to her life, and to life itself. (end)
“The Red Jacket” plays Jan. 24–Jan. 31 as part of the Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2009, at the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave., Seattle. For prices and show times, call 206-829-7863 or visit www.nwfilmforum.org.
Andrew Hamlin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
ON THE SHELF
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
AT THE MOVIES