2001, Movie, R, 112 mins


Chinese director Zhang Yang's gutsy film tackles a real-life tale of drug addiction, mental illness, family conflict and the downside of fame, using a cast of characters who are pretty much recreating their own experiences. It's the harrowing story of popular Chinese movie, theater and TV star Jia Hongsheng, who appeared in such films as SUMMER EXPECTATION and SILVER SNAKE MURDER, as well as Zhang's own stage adaptation of Kiss of the Spider Woman. It was during this 1992 production that Hongsheng was first introduced to pot, and the insecure young actor soon progressed to harder drugs in hopes of quelling his doubts about his own talent. Three years later, Jia's career was in tatters and his mental health fragile, prompting his father and mother, Jia Fengsen and Chai Xiurong, to relocate to Beijing from the northeastern province where they operated a local theater in a desperate attempt to save their son. Zhang uses the 1995 arrival of Hongsheng's parents as his film's starting point, and structures the action around a series of interviews, purportedly conducted as research for a future play about Hongsheng's experiences. As Hongsheng, his family and his circle of friends tell their stories, Hongsheng's story takes shape. Talented but tormented, Hongsheng eventually slips so far from reality that he believes himself to be the true son of John Lennon. The lyrics of "Let it Be" — translated as "Take it Naturally" — serve as Hongsheng's mantra. He soon becomes violent and his frightened parents have no choice but to commit him to a psychiatric hospital. The entire cast is extraordinarily good — many of them are, after all, actors by trade — but throughout, Zhang is keen to remind his audience that this is only a dramatization. He purposefully undercuts the realistic illusion created through his unique casting strategy by pulling back and revealing what we're seeing as a stage production; Hongsheng's apartment is just an elaborate set and the actors are merely recreating events that occurred a few years earlier. Hongsheng's troubling story has a happy ending: He's since gone on to appear in such key "Sixth Generation" films as FROZEN (1996) and SUZHOU RIVER (2000), fulfilling his dream of becoming known as a "serious" actor. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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