DIR Liu Jiayin | China | 2005 | 110mins
In Chinese with English subtitles.
Sat. Oct. 1 | 9:45pm | Granville 7 Theatres, Cinema 2
Sun. Oct. 2 | 3:15pm | Pacific Cinematheque
Reviewed by Yu Gu
A work of love about strife, Liu Jiayin’s mysterious mix of documentary and fiction is a personal contemplation on her family life. Ox Hide is this year’s winner of the Dragons and Tigers Award for emerging Asian cinema. The film is constructed from twenty-three non-moving shots of Liu and her family in her small, often claustrophobic, Beijing apartment. Each shot can be called a self-contained scene with a catalyst and a conclusion or opening. Every scene is gingerly framed in cinemascope and the action unfolds with impeccable pacing.
From the very first shot, their family dynamic is exposed. Liu’s father makes one-of-a-kind leather purses and owns a shop. But times become tough and he gradually needs to make increasing changes to his way of artistry and business. As he unrolls a piece of ox hide, Liu’s father comments on the number of scars from whips and branding that the ox has suffered. He laments that doesn’t do the poor ox justice by selling his purses at such a discount. On the other hand, his wife advocates adapting to what the customer wants in an effort for survival. Ideals of dignity, honour and justice are fought at the family dinner table, where loving gestures and words can instantaneously turn into screaming and resentment. Never framed in a wide shot, these scenes are intimate looks at the delicate structure of a family struggling in modern China.
Ox Hide truly stands out in this year’s pool of Dragons and Tigers nominees. While other films, such as Gie, have high production values and deal with epic themes, Liu’s debut marks a refined and masterful experimentation in truth and beauty. It is a credit to the Dragons and Tigers programmer, Tony Rayns, and VIFF, to champion such innovative emerging talent.