Objects in Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear
A Fool/Yi ge shao zi is another of the North American premières at the Film Society of Lincoln Center-Subway Cinema 14th annual New York Asian Film Festival. In English-subtitled Mandarin, the hour and three quarters is nevertheless as much visually as aurally understandable. Directed, edited and sound engineered by first-timer Jianbin Chen, it would teach us that no good deed goes unpunished. Though it hangs around the smallest drop too long for its own good, it rewards with a rare view of black humor from mainland China. Mischaracterized as “a harsh noir,” it is more a wryly perceptive comment on cruelty and ironies of the human predicament anywhere, and everywhere.
One of some five dozen offerings at the festival, this import centers on poor sheep farmer Latiaozi (Jianjiang Chen) and his patient but simmering wife Jinzhizi, on their own now that their only child and grown son is in jail for some time for some unspecified crime.
His face wonderfully conveying a simple man’s puzzlement at the world and its ways, the farmer has paid local sharper Li Datou to approach contacts to help spring the boy but, nothing coming of it, tries to locate the elusive man and recover fifty thousand yuan.
In town the petitioner picks up, or is picked up by, a filthy speechless vagabond in rags and an unlikely red plastic sun visor. The hairy nameless creature follows him into shops and finally home, where he calls the wife “Mother!” eats ravenously, and sleeps in the enclosed sheep pen, locked from outside so that he cannot wander away at night and freeze to death out there in the boonies.
Threatened, abandoned, yelled at, tied to a concrete post, bathed, clothed, shorn of shagginess, the ambling idiot returns. And returns. Between rides in Li Datou’s pricey SUV, the farmer gets printed up a found-missing-person headshot announcement. In response, three separate “family” groups come by to claim the “lost relative,” to wheedle money out of the clueless farm couple and to accuse them of human trafficking and insinuate blackmail.
At first glance, the titular fool is the never-identified speechless wreck who turns up, in a way is but is not the jailed son (and wears his shoes and clothes), and proves disarmingly normal-looking (though not -behaving) beneath all the hair and dirt. Sleeping alone on the sheep shed floor, Latiaozi is visited by a strange dream nightmare. Soon enough he himself becomes the visored fool, the innocent, the Holy Fool of myth and reality, butt of jokes and an outcast pelted by the not-so-innocent children of the town and the world. Money is truly no object.
(Released by China Lion Entertainment Productions; not yeat rated by MPAA.)