My homework this week is scanning old Chinese movies for interesting clips of Shanghai for possible screening in the exhibition. The exhibition curator Michael Knight was given a stack of DVDs from a Chinese contact with permission to use. (I think they are all in the public domain).
Last night I watched Crows and Sparrows (乌鸦与麻雀) which is available online in its entirety on a Chinese website called 56.com. No subtitles though. It was filmed during a tumultuous time, when the Kuomintang and the Communist party were engaged in civil war, and was released after the Communists had taken power in 1949. You probably can tell from the poster that the film takes a dim view on the KMT character and his wife — they are the cartoon characters (the crows) fleeing above the flames. Even though I could not understand the dialogue, they came across as pretty sinister. There was a surprising amount of humor despite the grim themes of corruption, strife, and conflict. There is a nice English plot summary here.
There were some city shots that were interesting and relevant. For example much of the drama takes place in the shikumen style housing shared by the characters. Contemporary artist Zhang Jian Jun is using reclaimed bricks from these rapidly disappearing 19th century structures in his installation called “Vestiges of a Process: Shanghai Garden.” In an interview, Zhang said, “[in] my artwork, I always using time, and the transition. Because everything is moving, everything is changing.” What a perfect summation of the spirit of the Shanghai exhibition and the films that also tell a part of these stories.
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