Sunday, May 30, 2010

in love we trust

Adam Dorsey
Chinese 505
Research Paper

In Love We Trust: individual pursuits of happiness

The film "In Love We Trust" by Wang XiaoShuai is a film filled with emptiness. There is the empty Beijing cityscape in deep focus that allows the camera to show acres of bulldozed land around the frames of empty high rises. Director Wang returns to these Beijing shots as a constant theme of empty space develops throughout the narrative of the film. The film begins and ends with a car trip through the maze of urban landscape; the camera lens is ever tinted as a soft blue grey that draws the attention to the polluted grey of the Beijing sky. The camera never escapes the concrete of Beijing to offer any alternative view of landscape; this gives the film a secluded urban feel.
It becomes quite clear that director Wang is intentionally filming the city with as few people in the shots as possible, allowing for the theme of emptiness to permeate through the cityscape just as if a permanent setting of the film. This is a statement made in contemporary China that contrasts the romantic socialist past. Director Wang is making a statement about how individual pursuit has impacted collective well-being.
We ride along on the subway as it carries the characters through Beijing with the camera always pointed out the subway window toward the rolling empty streets and seemingly abandoned buildings lining empty neighborhoods. The camera seems to avoid the people of the city as one's eye avoids contact with a stranger's. A soft piano plays while this landscape moves by outside the subway car window, speaking to the dampened psyche that develops inside such an empty place.
The seemingly empty buildings that rise out of the empty bulldozed lots have been built, in part, by the characters that Wang presents in the film. We are introduced to Xiao Lu as he is on the site of a tower being constructed. Again, Wang focuses the camera's eye on the empty frame of the building that is being raised from the cleared earth. Xiao Lu works in the construction of these empty buildings as a project manager. Xiao Lu's job is one at which he is constantly on call and lives between heated arguments over building materials. He uses a cell phone to negotiate deals at all hours.
Xiao Lu works on the outside of the frames of these buildings separate from and his ex-wife, Mei Zhu who works inside the new buildings, selling spacious, empty apartments. Mei Zhu works in real estate and walks couples through empty rooms. She leads buyers through these empty spaces in attempt to fill them as homes. Director Wang XiaoShuai uses the frames of the empty rooms to separate the characters in the film. This is one way that the director uses inside the film to expose the new reality of life in China as an isolated existence. While it is true that the material comfort, represented by the spacious apartment, is a positive thing; isolation can occur as a result of the over-pursuit of material comfort.
The blank walls of the empty rooms become dividing lines that isolate the characters inside the apartments. Mei Zhu is never able to close a deal for selling apartment number 2007. The potential buyers comment that they think the space is too big. The camera remains below Mei Zhu and blocked by a wall from the space of 2007, leaving the viewer to imagine the empty rooms. Mei Zhu uses a cell phone from inside this isolated space, to connect with her family and home.
While the theme of emptiness permeates the film, cell phones are an important medium to traverse the empty spaces between people. The symbol of the cell phone is told as a riddle between Lao Xie and HeHe: "With tens of thousands of miles in between, everything can be heard clearly". The cell phone appears as a vehicle that transmits through emptiness.
Cell phones appear frequently through the film, as a means of detached communication. This contemporary form of communication is a break away from the face to face communication of the past, a point driven further home by the reality that contemporary China is moving away from its socialist past and becoming more and more a nation of isolated individuals.
The use of cell phones allows for nameless and faceless characters to enter into the narrative. The cell phone also works to bring two separate scenes together through the emptiness of the narrative surrounding them. In fact, the point is made that the cell phone can operate without even any meaning or intention in its call. Mei Zhu accidentally "pocket dials" home on two occasions, with one of these occasions allowing her husband, Lao Xie to hear her adultery in action. The cell phone becomes a type of objective observer of the narrative that is able to transmit through the empty space of the setting. The cell phone is able to connect the characters in scene, while remaining independent of actual human connectedness.
Traveling through miles of empty space continues as a theme of the film. Xiao Lu's current wife, Dong Fan is an airline stewardess. As a stewardess, she traverses the globe through the empty firmament above the horizon. Her job would appear to be enviable to the average person. However, when Lao Xie (Mei Zhu's current husband) comments that Dong Fan's job must be great to travel, Dong Fan answers him with an uncomfortable smile and blank stare. A job, it seems, can not fill the empty void in her life. Dong Fan longs to be rooted with a family, her heart is not comforted by her enviable job position.
As Dong Fan and Xiao Lu ride an escalator through a posh Beijing mall, the camera pauses on a showcase of Golden paw-waving cats. The excess in this case is humorous as the film turns toward the emptiness created through unchecked capitalism. It could have been a healthy capitalist pursuit that built the empty towers and bulldozed the land. Perhaps it is the same excess in pursuit of money that allows the golden cats to wave at Dong Fan in the mall.
As the cats are grinning in their perpetual wave, Xiao Lu tells the cell phone in his hand that money is not a problem with the construction bid, but he is not on the work site because of a family problem. And, as the narrative shapes around the emptiness in two families, the viewer is aroused to the dilemma of the family problem spoken by Xiao Lu.
Dong Fan is empty and bored in her discontented stroll through the mall. Her gaze reminds the viewer of another scene in the bedroom of her home. She wants to have a child, to fill her empty womb. However, Xiao Lu has become impotent around her, unable to fill her desire. Their “family” life consists of buying things to fill the emptiness of their home and heart. Dong Fan reminds Xiao Lu that he is already a father from his previous marriage, and she too would like to have a child in her life.
Children are seen as symbols of happiness inside the film. It is the disease of Hehe, Xiao Lu's only child that drives the entire narrative. The only time that there is any laughter in the film is when Hehe is on screen. The blank stares of the adult characters liven up to full smiles as she touches them.
The film begins with a still shot of an empty entryway that is filled with the playful laughter of Hehe, Lao Xie, and Mei Zhu as they leave their apartment. The same empty entryway is shown at the end of the film as it is filled by a class full of happy children on their way to wish Hehe well in recovery from leukemia. This is a way for director Wang to complete the theme of childhood happiness that runs through the film.
Hehe's leukemia is a symbol of trouble plaguing contemporary Beijing life; A hollowed out existence. Leukemia literally empties bones of marrow. The question: "who will save Hehe?" is a central question to the film. The means that the film's characters are willing to go through to save Hehe presents the larger dilemma of emptiness in contemporary life. Relationships are seen as removable constructs that are only detrimental toward the individual pursuits of happiness.
In a post-modern world, value systems have lost there meaning, marriage is just another social construct from an outdated meaning system. So the characters move from marriage to marriage, only pausing as the wake they leave catches up to their discontent. To save Hehe, Mei Zhu is willing to sacrifice two marriages her ex-husband's and her own. Mei Zhu's current pursuit is leading to her future divorce, as in the film, she asks Lao Xie to divorce her while she stares blankly at a television screen. Her words are without feeling "Let's get a divorce" as if they have no meaning.
It is not a coincidence that "In Love We Trust" is a film narrative that comes out of China in 2007. The post-Mao era dealt with the transition between the end of socialist-romanticism and the beginning of a new capitalist-romanticism. That age saw possibilities in the budding economic transition. As those possibilities turned from fresh green to corrupted grey, a new school of thought is developing in urban China. This period of reaction to the trappings of capitalism in China could be called post-romantic capitalism. The film "In Love We Trust" falls squarely in place with this line of thinking as it shows the result of the end of the pursuit of the capitalist dream.
Mainly, the film shows the result of the ethically-unfettered, get-rich-at-any-cost approach to the capitalist life. Much of the film's human setting can be seen as a result of the past pursuits of the characters. The past divorce of Mei Zhu and Xiao Lu is a constant in the film's memory. The divorce is a past decision that haunts the ethics of present film narrative. Like-wise, the abortion of Mei Zhu and Lao Xie's offspring is a haunting decision from the past. This aborted half-sibling for Hehe touches the here and now of the film, offering only a regretful ghost of genetically matched bone marrow salvation.
The characters of the film are caught in pursuit of happiness. Even as they mop up the consequences of past pursuits, they still chase after present idols. So, the characters can be seen as having given up on the emptiness brought about by chasing the golden waving cats for the mantle. This pursuit could be classified as the romantic dream of capitalist happiness in the larger sense.
However, these older, wiser characters have not settled to rest without their current, more middle aged happiness idols: the healthy family life. It is not that a healthy family is a bad thing in itself. But when worshiped as an ends to happiness, even love can be hard master to serve.. The film depicts Mei Zhu turning life upside down to save Hehe, serving her need through adultery. Mei Zhu is willing to sacrifice all for her daughter. In the harshest of light, she is willing to create a life for its umbilical cord blood (think of the future consequences).
Ultimately, these pursuits can lead only to more emptiness, living for ones own happiness. Lao Xie tells Mei Zhu not to cry in front of Hehe, as it is bad for Hehe to see. Then, Mei Zhu spends the rest of her on screen time with Hehe…crying. Mei Zhu saving Hehe is not about Hehe, it is about Mei Zhu living for the gain of her own happiness.
And, emptiness is personified in the film: the emptiness of solitary, isolated existence. Personal emptiness is internalized in the film through slow piano music over close-up camera angles on blank stares. During the hospital scenes, director Wang is even able to erase all expression from the faces of the characters as he places bleach white surgical masks over their noses and mouths. The men are constantly smoking cigarettes, and the camera sees each one as it fills the void of their lungs and disappears into a cloud around the faces. Lao Xie's only moments of individual freedom in the film come when he goes out in pursuit of his next pack of cigarettes.
The film deals with the hard reality of contemporary issues in an objective and non-didactic way. The emptiness that surrounds the characters is presented as the landscape of contemporary city life. The emptiness inside each of them is the relational void, ironically, created by pursuing alternative individual solutions to happiness.
Who will save Hehe is the call to create a new, viable life. Indeed, the genetically matched marrow, to be born from adulterous affair is the only hope provided for Hehe inside the narrative. The viewer is left to question at an objective distance weather the joy in Hehe’s heart can be saved as well. Or will Hehe be saved only to live as an isolated individual pursuing her own private gain, in the contemporary adult world of emptiness.

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