The Useless Tree presents an interesting question about whether a film like Slumdog Millionaire would ever have a chance of being seen in China. Unfortunately, some in the Chinese movie industry have ignored the fact that many in the Indian film industry (and Indians in general) are upset at the portrayal of their country in Danny Boyle's Oscar winning movie. Would an Indian ever make a Slumdog? And more importantly for me, would it be possible to have a Chinese version, which examines some of the more controversial topics the country faces?
The Chinese movie industry tends to be about extremes, cinema is either very accessible and mainstream or very artsy and not targeted for mass consumption, or alternatively digging up controversy and end up getting banned. As of yet, few have been able to walk the fine, middle line.
The movie Gaoxing, one of this year's early offerings, based on the novel of the same name by writer Jia Pingwa is definitely targeted as a feel good comedy for the masses. Jia's novel was a hit in 2007 and one of the year's best books, but the movie hasn't received very much critical acclaim. A movie about a poor, peasant garbage collector who goes to the big city, falls in love with a prostitute, and has to face the death of his sibling due to lack of funds to cover the hospital bill doesn't sound like much of a comedy, but it actually is.
Sure, if the movie took a hard look at these issues, like Slumdog, it would most likely be banned by the Culture bureau. It would also kill it as a Chinese New Year movie, which is what the film was targeted as. Gaoxing's main character, Liu Gaoxing, is presented as a likable, optimistic guy who looks on the brighter side of life and eventually gets the girl (even if she's only a "massage girl" with a heart of gold). Nothing too serious is portrayed, Liu Gaoxing seems happy with his lot in life, and the only time the true grit of working as a collector is shown is at a landfill when garbage collectors fight over a newly dumped load of garbage.
Overall the film is entertaining and ellicits a laugh here and there. For those interested in language, its also almost completely in Shanxi dialect. Also, the movie is quite possibly China's first modern musical, as there are a number of long song and dance numbers (far more Bollywood than Slumdog was), including a few hip hop songs. This element gives the movie a strange feeling and overall, it seems better suited for the stage, rather than the big screen. In the end, Gaoxing will give you a laugh or two and help you to feel better, a nice way to escape all the pessimism and negativity surrounding the current global crisis.