Still More Life
Director Jia Zhangke's documentary Dong (literally the word for "East," although it may be referring to part of the name of its subject) follows the Chinese artist Liu Xiaodong as he travels to the Three Gorges Dam in China and then to Bangkok, Thailand. Liu is a very skilled painter who speaks of his fascination with the strength, virility, and beauty of the human body, and the persistence of these qualities even within adverse conditions.
Jia follows this artist as he paints murals of demolition workers at the Three Gorges, and later a group of women in Bangkok; they also sidetrack as Liu visits the family of an onsite accident victim, and when Jia singularly follows one of Liu's female subjects as she walks to the train station. As Liu expounds upon what he seeks and what he feels the place of art is in his life, one can see how natural a subject he is for Jia, whose own style is observant of human behaviors and forms. Dong is seen as the companion piece to Still Life, as they were shot at about the same time, and both feature the Three Gorges Dam project (there are even overlapping scenes and actors), but Dong was conceived first.
Seeing the dam project and its effects on the residents nearby inspired Jia to make Still Life. Dong is not without its own merits -- it has its own thoughtful, and sometimes playful, observations and cinematography -- and it strengthens what we understand of Jia and his motives. It shows the similar mindsets of artists who would travel to less familiar spaces in search of their next muse, and who would paint, shoot, and appreciate the myriad shapes and expressions of the human beings they find.
(Released by Xstream Pictures, not rated by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.windowtothemovies.com.