Film Review: The The (2019) by Li Hongqi

by Cho Jinseok

Because the world lurches from one disaster to the subsequent (be it geo-political, medical or financial) you’d be forgiven for pondering we’re all trapped in some sort of epic, absurdist horror movie that appears to go on and on and on (and as I kind this we’ve got entered 12 months three of the COVID-19 pandemic).

So whereas Li Hongqi’s “The The” was made earlier than COVID-19 plagued the world from Beijing to Boston, Cape City to Copenhagen, the movie very a lot operates within the spirit of the Trump-era onwards and has clear resonances to present COVID-era horrors in how humanity has responded to the pandemic (it’s onerous to disregard the movie’s dialogue of vaccines and the “extreme disintegration of the connection between medical doctors and sufferers” within the context of rising Web DIY “analysis” round COVID cures).

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Whereas some sources cite three variations of “The The” in circulation (at 82 minutes, 103 minutes and 166 minutes), probably the most extensively obtainable cuts are the 82 and 166 minute variations at the moment taking part in on Chinese language cinema streaming service, Cathayplay. Having watched each variations, and been captivated by each in their very own methods, it should be stated the longer model is superior to the extent it unfolds at its personal leisurely tempo and totally expands on a whole lot of the absurd interactions and jokes, to not point out milk these awkward pauses between characters to most comedic impression. For people who haven’t received the odd two-and-a-half hours plus to spend money on the movie, you’ll nonetheless expertise the essence of “The The” however gained’t fairly indulge within the wealthy closing chapters of the movie seen within the longer model.

By now, common viewers of Li’s cinema must be properly attuned to his imaginative and prescient of a China intentionally slowed down and never that removed from the “madhouse”. His newest (in each variations) takes place completely in some sort of surreal madhouse that at occasions resembles a jail; a slasher movie villain’s lair; a college; and a generic trendy lodge restaurant you’d discover in any variety of China’s regional cities. Frequent markers of the horror style pop up such because the dingy lounge, the consumption of mysterious organs and the odd look of unnerving biology statuettes.  

The premise is straight-forward: eight women and men navigate these empty areas, discussing every part from North Korean peace talks to faith, the deserves of an explicitly artporn movie (that humourously climaxes with a pseudo-artistic “Fin”) to the unusual predicament all of them appear to be trapped inside. Barely a soul is witnessed exterior these eight characters and they’re much less human beings than ciphers for unleashing frustrations and needs.

Whereas Li’s movies equivalent to “Winter Trip” or “Routine Vacation” pushed the absurdity of recent China inside a sensible framework, all bets are off with “The The”, it’s the sort of movie the place mysterious organs are launched however solely with pixellation (like some Japanese AV) and upon two of those organs touching, orgasmic moans of some western pornstar are triggered. At one level, the rejection of a tiny restaurant price transforms right into a diatribe on how this straightforward act might be “an enormous collective psychological dysfunction for the worldwide monetary markets”. It’s a loopy world however perhaps a imaginative and prescient of what’s to return for humanity.

Understanding Li’s background in poetry will assist body how one can finest interpret the movie’s lengthy (particularly within the 166 minute model) stretches of dialogue, non-sequiturs and detours into world historical past. Nothing unfolding over the two-and-a-half hours conforms to any actual guidelines of standard Chinese language impartial cinema (its anti-narrative method appears much more daring and confrontational than “So A lot Rice”). Talking of “So A lot Rice”, viewers of the 166 minute model might be handled to a throwback to seeing some excerpts from that “anti-narrative” movie (and the looks of Chinese language indie filmmaker Zhang Yuedong) and in context, it’s a wise technique to situate “The The” within the broader world of Li’s thematic considerations which began over 15 years in the past.  

Whether or not you see the quick or lengthy variations, you’re more likely to expertise a cinematic poem keyed into the tensions, anxieties and apathy many people will in all probability really feel in 2022 [mainland Chinese viewers (if they can see the film, and given the opening act’s explicit shots of female genitalia, it’s anyone’s guess whether it can be easily shown in Xi’s moral PRC utopia) may especially appreciate the dialogue, its rhythms and absurdities (explaining “cao”)]. The continuously disorientating world of “The The” is the one response an awesome artist equivalent to Li can should the trajectory of Xi’s trendy China, and for these exterior of the mainland there’s lots to think about within the movie’s grappling with the absurdity of life as we hurtle in direction of the unknown.  

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