(English and Mandarin Chinese dialogue)
Laudable in theory but uneven in practice, “Dream and Memory” is a mixed bag. The reminiscence of a friendship forged during the Cultural Revolution by a Gotham-based Chinese artist will be of interest to Sinophiles and special-interest groups but won’t travel far beyond that.
Film is the first of a series of cross-cultural items planned by N.Y.-based C&A Prods. using independent filmmakers from mainland China. Chinese sections of “Dream” were lensed in northern China in fall ’92, using mainland technicians; New York segs were shot in spring ’93, with a mixed American/Chinese-American crew. Peking-born producer/director Ann Hu herself moved to the U.S. in 1979.
Central character is Hong Yuan (Bing Yang), a blind Chinese man living with his uncle’s American widow (Kathleen Claypool) whose memories of the Cultural Revolution are stirred by a letter from an old friend, Ai Cheng (Wang Shuo). Fifteen years earlier, during the late ’60s, the two were sent to paint propagandist wall pictures in remote Stone Village.
Film cross-cuts between their life in the village 15 years earlier — when the duo were split by artistic differences and Hong (Shao Bing) fell for a local peasant girl (Ren Yan) — and Hong’s aimless existence in New York, reminiscing with his aunt and romanced by a woman (Adina Porter) who can’t bring herself to tell him she’s black.
Chinese scenes, simply but effectively shot on location, partly evoke old-style mainland pix in their iconography and acting styles. Story is treated episodically but has an ingenuous charm aided by subtitled Chinese dialogue, a feel for landscape and economic detailing of how Mao’s policies reached into the remotest corners of the country.
New York sections are less happy, with poor English enunciation by Yang, as the older Hong, stodgy direction and clumsy scripting.
Impression is of two small movies stir-fried together, with no overall dramatic arc and the sum considerably less than the parts. Still, the Chinese segs show Hu as a director of some promise, so long as she delegates producing and scripting chores in the future. Tech credits are OK for a 16mm low-budgeter. Parallel Chinese title, “Shanhe jiuhua,” evokes reminiscences of China’s landscape.