Single Man 光棍兒
Contemporary black comedy
2010, colour, 16:9, 93 mins
Directed by Hao Jie (郝杰)
By Derek Elley
Tue, 21 December 2010, 09:59 AM (HKT)
Cleverly constructed, low-key character comedy set in a northern Chinese village with sex mostly on its mind. Festivals.
Gujiagou village, Zhangjiakou municipality, Hebei province, northwest of Beijing, the present day. Four old single men while away their time in grouchy banter, remembering their sex lives as young men. Back in 1966 Bighead Liang (Liang Yousheng), now over 70, lost his hand in a hay-cutting machine when flirting with the future mother of Qiaosan (Hang Zhipeng). Back in 1945 Gu Lin (Du Tianguang) was abandoned by his wife while trying to grope his sister-in-law in their shared bed one night. In the 1940s 12-year-old Liuruan (Liang Chunying) was in an arranged married to a young woman but refused to sleep with her on their wedding night. Back in 1975 as a young shepherd Old Yang (Yang Zhenjun) got local girl Eryatou pregnant. Now middle-aged, Eryatou (Wang Suzhen) is married to village head Hao (Wang Zhenbin) and has a grown son, Hao Jian'gen (Hao Jie), who is still trying to pass his university entrance exam, but she and Old Yang still have regular sex when her husband is away. One day Old Yang decides to take a wife and buys a Sichuan girl (Sabrina Yap) from some human traffickers (Du Pu, Zhao Fan) for RMB 6,000 (US$900). But she tries to run away after their first night together, and then Qiaosan tells his parents that he is in love with her and wants her as his wife.
There's no shortage of mainland Chinese "village films" in which the locals are engaged in a little hanky-panky, but it's rare to find one in which sex is the only thing on their minds — apart from getting a decent price from outsiders for their watermelons. Beijing Film Academy graduate HAO Jie 郝杰 sets his lowkey black comedy Single Man 光棍兒 (2010) in his home village of Gujiagou, a couple of hundred kilometres northwest of Beijing, using friends and relatives for an only slightly exaggerated portrait of a rural community in which the close-knit bonds between everyone are expressed in a typically gruff, northern way but underpinned by a mutual dependency that means disputes can always be sorted out pragmatically after some steam has been let off.
The film slides into its four main characters in an original way, with flashbacks briefly sketching the sexual adventures of their youth before the main plot — Old Yang's decision to buy a young wife from some human traffickers — clicks in, with consequences that reshuffle long relationships in the village. In its offhand way, the script is cleverly constructed in its character play, and Hao keeps things moving with the minimum of film-school affectations. (For a start, the movie is set during summer, not the bleak northern winter so beloved of indie directors.) Though the sexual content is visually discreet, the dialect-thick dialogue has a fruity, rural directness (from both men and women), and Hao manages the tricky task of letting the humour come out of the situations rather than playing everything as broad comedy.
As the oldie whose sex drive is still unabated, YANG Zhenjun 楊振君, the only professional actor in the film, is excellent as Old Yang, and WANG Suzhen 王素珍 is equally lusty and entertaining as his youthful lover who, though now married and a mother, is still up for a quickie in the fields (or even on a bed). As Yang's bought bride from Sichuan, Sabrina YAP 葉蘭 — one of several crew members taking on-screen roles, including Hao himself as a studious son and d.p. DU Pu 杜溥 as a seedy human trafficker — doesn't have much of a character but conveys the alienation of a young southern outsider in a northern community. Editing, by Hao, Ye and Du, has a natural and easy flow, and Du's photography is scenic when dramatically necessary. The Chinese title can mean either a single man or a hoodlum.
ContactSales: Heaven Pictures Culture & Media, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Premiere: San Sebastian Film Festival (Zabaltegi: New Directors), 24 Sep 2010. Theatrical release: TBA.
Produced by Heaven Pictures Culture & Media (CN). Executive producer: Hao Guoying. Producers: Hao Qitian, Yang Guilan, Hao Jie.
Script: Hao Qitian, Yang Cuilan. Photography: Du Pu. Editing: Hao Jie, Sabrina Yap, Du Pu. Production design: Wang Lei. Art direction: Wang Weida. Sound: Qiao Jing, Wang Shuo. Executive directors: Hao Guoying, Yang Cuilan.
Cast: Yang Zhenjun (Old Yang), Du Tianguang (Gu Lin), Liang Yousheng (Bighead Liang), Liang Chunying (Liuruan), Yang Zhanbiao (deaf man), Sabrina Yap (Sichuan girl), Wang Suzhen (Eryatou, village head's wife), Hang Zhipeng (Qiaosan), Wang Jinda (Qiaosan's father), Chen Xiulan (Qiaosan's mother), Wang Zhenbin (Hao, the village head), Hao Jie (Hao Jian'gen, his son), Shi Weizheng (Ergen), Han Shiyu (young girl), Liu Xuedong (young Old Yang), Li Yang (young Eryatou), Shi Wenxi (Eryatou's father), Yang Cuilan (Eryatou's mother), Wang Yu (young Bighead Liang), Wen Hailan (Qiaosan's mother, when young), Sun Yanxin, Shi Yafan (hay-cutting women), Shi Qiang (young Gu Lin), Huang Zhaozhi (Gu Lin's wife), Li Xingxing (Maogen, Gu Lin's sister-in-law), Li Zicheng (young Liuruan), Wang Xiaoqing (young Liuruan's wife), Li Guangming (Liuruan's father), Zhao Meifang (Liuruan's mother), Pang Shanliang (servant in Liuruan's home), Qin Ling, Li Hong (watermelon buyers), Zhao Jia (prostitute), Zhang Xiuhua (teacher Wen), Cao Yushan (teacher Liu), Chen Lin (hairdresser), Du Pu, Zhao Fan (human traffickers), Yu Chengying (strange woman).