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Are We Really So Far From the Madhouse? (2010)

Are We Really So Far From the Madhouse? (2010)
October 21, 2012 - 4:00 pm

Are We Really So Far From the Madhouse? (2010)

US Premiere!

Directed by Li Hongqi

After the critical acclaim of his fiction feature Winter Vacation (2010), filmmaker Li Hongqi shifted his focus to documentaries. Li hoped to shake up his methodology: “I am too controlling... So for now I want to extract myself from my way of thinking and do something that is the complete opposite.” Are We Really So Far from the Madhouse?, Li’s first work since shifting course, flirts with letting go even as Li throws down the gauntlet of rigorous formal experimentation. The results are by turns mesmerizing and unsettling.

Following China’s post-punk art rockers P.K. 14 (short for “Public Kingdom for Teens”) on their first national tour, Li lets his camera run, surrendering to the flow of life on the road, documenting the cycle of movement and stasis that shapes the band’s daily grind. In between energetic gigs at lo-fi venues, the group’s four members kill time in hotel rooms and over long stretches in their van, staving off boredom with an arsenal of distractions – books, iPods, PSP.

It’s standard concert film stuff that Li renders utterly alien – and absorbing – through shot duration, intercutting color with black-and-white and de-linking sound from image. While P.K. 14’s own grungy sonic swirls accompany footage of the band on the road, when they come to rest, a discordant mashup of guttural human noises and wild cat growls overlays the scenes. There’s no dialogue throughout – short of the band’s lyrics – and not even the performance footage is in sync. It is, to borrow a line from one of P.K. 14’s songs, a “mysterious chaos” that nevertheless seems to capture the restlessness of contemporary China.

– Paul Malcolm

Producer: Alex Chung. Cinematographer/Editor: Li Hongqi. Cast: P.K. 14.

HDCAM, color, Putonghua w/ English s/t, 87 min. 

*Please note the early start time