Eye For Film >> Movies >> Uniform (2003) Film Review
Diao Yinan’s first feature film was made with little means but much passion. Inspired by a true event, Diao has imagined a rather unique world: that of a lonely, weak young man who struggles to balance his duties to his family with his pain at being a victim at every turn. Xiao Jian (Liang Hung-li) works as a tailor, and and is shortchanged and sneered at by his customers. His father is ill, and a financial burden, but the factory he worked at has been bought by another company, and Xiao Jian is threatened when he tries to claim sick-pay on his behalf. Xiao Jian then gets caught up in an attack by disgruntled workers on the new factory office, and accused of complicity by the police.
Xiao Jian remains silent, passive and humiliated, until the day a police officer leaves a shirt at his shop to be ironed, and fails to collect it. He starts to experiment with wearing it, enjoying the feeling of strength and power it gives him. It’s while wearing his new uniform that he meets a girl, and gathers the courage to start dating her. Soon he has got hold of a hat and trousers to finish the uniform, and before long he starts stopping drivers to gather bribes, by pretending to be a traffic cop. While the shirt gives him confidence, and brings in the Yuan, it also seems to be a magnet for trouble. How long can he sustain the precarious double act of hopeless waster and tough cop?
Diao has hit on a fascinating idea for a film, and his central character is intriguing and convincingly portrayed by Liang. The dispassionate exploration of Xiao Jian's predicament must owe something to Diao's background as a documentary producer, and he has a good eye for composition. There are problems, however. Produced on a budget, the film’s aesthetic has the harsh and unpolished look of a soap or made-for-TV drama, which in turn is unforgiving to the weaker actors in the cast, for example Xiao Jian’s love interest (Zhen Shuo-qiong). The film’s pace is also a stumbling-block. While its lethargy echoes the passivity of the protagonist, and is poignant at times, it wouldn’t have hurt to spend a less time lingering over certain lacklustre vignettes.
In spite of these reservations, Uniform is a brave and conscientious attempt to depict the lives of ordinary residents of modern provincial China, and address some of the social issues of the moment. With working and lower-middle classes the focus, there are hints of newfound economic mobility, though it does not always come through conventional means. As Xiao Jian finds out, he's not the only one profiting from a shady sideline. And money itself is only part of the problem: power and its abuse, corruption, and the chasm between the weak and the strong all play their part in creating a society that is far from harmonious.
Uniform is an intriguing, if patchy, debut, but if Diao continues to base films on such sensitive and intelligent storylines, we should have high hopes for his future projects.Reviewed on: 25 Jul 2008