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Chinese filmmaker shows work

Beth Erickson | Thursday, November 13, 2003

Over 300 students and faculty members attended the screening of Li Yang’s controversial film “Blind Shaft” in DeBartolo Hall Wednesday night. The Chinese filmmaker, who visited campus for the event, responded to questions after the showing.

The film, which addresses several different humanitarian issues, was shot in China illegally without government approval. International viewing of the film is prohibited by China, but this marked its second screening in the United States.

“Blind Shaft” was not originally produced as a political commentary, but rather as a presentation of various humanitarian issues prevalent in modern China, Yang said.

The documentary-style film portrays the destitution of rural China, a country in which 200 million people reside below the poverty line. It also depicts the squalid working conditions of Chinese coalminers, of whom more than 10,000 die each year in work-related accidents.

Yang examines the relationship between wealth and ethics in his film, juxtaposing moralistic consciousness with a drive for materialism. As wealth increases in China, this contrast becomes more and more pronounced, Yang said. In the face of temptation, people have different reactions, he said.

To portray this contrast, Yang presents two con artists who question the integrity of their avaricious scam after realizing the innocence of their victim.

Yang discusses the importance of education in relation to China’s economic problems. His protagonist desires to attend school, but cannot afford to do so. To earn enough money to meet his goal, he must work in the deadly coalmines.

“I was quite impressed with how deftly the immoral behavior came together in the end and karma finally delivered each character his deserved lot,” Matthew Solarski, a junior from Siegfried Hall said. “I was equally impressed by the film’s ability to evoke sympathy for even the most unscrupulous characters by presenting touches of humanity in each of them, if only momentarily.”

The controversial film elicited negative reviews from a few members of the audience, who questioned Yang’s depiction of criminality in conjunction with reform issues. In response to such remarks, Yang said that his intention was to showcase only some of the problems afflicting modern China.

Filming required much courage, as it went against Chinese cinematic tradition, said Yang.

The film was adapted from the novel “Sacred Wood,” which won a top literary prize in China.

Yang said that he is very optimistic about the future of China, but that, like the future of the film’s protagonist, is uncertain.