Monday, April 28, 2008

'Using' a Documentary by Zhou Hao

Now that I am more or less settled down in Guangzhou I am trying to explore the local art scene. I have never lived in a city like this before, although Jakarta is a massive city it just has a totally different vibe. The fact that I grew up there and have so many friends there, I tend not to notice what’s going on outside my box. Now I can make conscious decisions to try anything I come across, because in Guangzhou, outside of work I have no box. So the other night I ventured outside my comfort zone to a part of the city I was not too familiar with to check out a documentary called using. I heard about it on Facebook. This is the synopsis that was printed.

“‘Using’ is the latest work by contemporary Chinese documentary filmmaker Zhou Hao. Shot over the last three years, the documentary follows the relationship between the filmmaker and two “friends” who were drug users in the city of Guangzhou. Apart from investigating at close range a dark and cruel layer of reality of contemporary Chinese society that has rarely been aired, the documentary is also provocative in baring the mutually using relationship between the filmmaker and the filmed subject.”

I have never heard of Zhou Hao before this nor have I made an effort since the screening to find out more about him, but from the subject matter alone I was extremely eager to see this film. Since coming to China and living in Guangzhou I have wondered where the junkies are. Every city has its fair share of crack addicts and junkies, but somehow here I saw no evidence of them. I never saw any signs around the city warning of the danger using drugs can cause nor any crude graffiti that the element usually leave strewn on city walls. I knew it had to be there and the government was just doing a fucking good job of keeping out of the public eye. ‘Using’ does not attempt to or succeed in blowing the lid of the hard core drug using community in Guangzhou. Rather this hand held feature chronicles the attempt of a middle aged user in Guangzhou to kick the habit. It is shot and presented as a documentary in Chinese with English subtitles. The approach and treatment of this is very straightforward with no hidden plots, messages, or back ground music. The editing is overly simplified allowing the footage to speak for itself. And the subject matter is brutally honest. Watching this documentary was a welcome experience for me that gave me a small glimpse into a world I have been so curious about. There is nothing glorious about this film and if you have ever had any experiences with hard drugs that you have walked away from, you walk away feeling lucky that you worked your way out of that hole. And you feel nothing but pity for the twisted mind that is left feinding for a fix. I don’t know how this film would find its way onto the main circuit but if you ever come across it, I strongly recommend checking it out. It is not the best quality work I have seen, but still worth my time.

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