Kaili Blues


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Kailili Blues
"A breathtaking piece of work."

As a film critic, it's easy to become cynical: one sees a great many unimaginative reworkings of the same stories, shots and scraps of dialogue. The greatest pleasure of this job, then - and perhaps the rarest - is the discovery of a fresh talent with the potential to revolutionise cinema. This is Gan Bi's first feature and only his second film of any kind. It is a breathtaking piece of work.

The plot is simple but not particularly important to the whole. It follows a young doctor, Chen Shen (Yongzhong Chen), who is worried about the well-being of his brother's son Wei Wei (delightfully played a a young child by Feiyang Luo). The boy is frequently neglected and when he disappears - after his father has been talking about selling him - Chen Shen leaves his home in the town of Kaili to search for him. Travelling through the deep wooded ravines of Guizhou province, he comes across a little town where time flows in unexpected directions. There he will find all his expectations challenged, glimpse his own future and find a new way of relating to the world.

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This is a film about journeys and Gan Bi approaches them with a series of remarkable single shots that carry us through busy streets, up steps, onto the back of motorbikes, along mountain roads with stunning views, down into the valleys and even across the rivers. Though not always as smooth as it might be - this is low budget, interrupted genius - his camera always moves in rhythm with the actors and with the natural world, and everything it captures is beautifully framed as if the director had travelled these routes a hundred times and managed to keep every detail in his head. His still shots are similarly impressive, bringing a sense of the magical into the most mundane of places.

Most of the actors in this film are non-professional yet their performances are relaxed and natural, making it easier to accept the fantastic elements of the tale which are, after all, commonplace as far as many of its characters are concerned. Yongzhong Chen, soulful yet never overbearing in the central role, provides a calm centre for the other actors to bounce off. All of the characters feel round and real, with even the negligent brother (Lixun Xie) revealing unexpected depths and contributing to the humour that keeps the film from getting pretentious.

The mountains of Guizhou would be beautiful even if filmed on a phone, and Wang Tianxing's cinematography brings out the best in them, creating a tremendous sense of place. Local children's songs and the music of the Miao people add to this and blend with Giong Lim's score to create a seamless whole. Kaili Blues reaches back into a timeless past and promises, for its bold young director, a brilliant future.

Reviewed on: 27 Nov 2016
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An ex-con doctor embarks on a mystical quest after his nephew vanishes.

Director: Gan Bi

Writer: Gan Bi

Starring: Yongzhong Chen, Yue Guo, Linyan Liu, Feiyang Luo, Lixun Xie, Zhuohua Yang, Shixue Yu, Daqing Zhao

Year: 2015

Runtime: 113 minutes

Country: China


NDNF 2016
Karlovy 2016

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