First production completed by Shanghai-based shingle DC Pictures (and first feature for helmer/cowriter Jiang Cheng), "Violin" is a little-man-triumphs tale that's a modest but thorough delight. Crowd-pleasing pic could parlay fest buzz into specialized tube and home-format sales, with some arthouse distribution in select territories possible.

First production completed by Shanghai-based shingle DC Pictures (and first bigscreen feature for helmer/cowriter Jiang Cheng), “Violin” is a little-man-triumphs tale that’s a modest but thorough delight. Sweet-natured, crowd-pleasing pic could parlay fest buzz into specialized tube and home-format sales, with some arthouse distribution in select territories possible.

A 37-year-old bachelor with no special prospects or skills, Wu (Gu Jing Lin) looks set to spend the rest of his life lugging newspapers to his magazine kiosk by day, then returning home to the shack he shares with his long-suffering mom each night.

After nearly being hit by a truck, he discovers a violin that had toppled off, safe in its case. He puts up signs seeking the pricey item’s owner, but no one comes forward, and in the meantime Wu becomes fascinated by the instrument — going so far as to enroll in a nearby music school where he’s the only grown-up among sniggering children accompanied by their well-heeled parents. His teacher, Ng (Annie Wu), a pretty but sullen young woman, faces returning to her provincial village if a professional musical career doesn’t pan out.

Wu develops a crush that barely registers on Ng’s radar. In any case, he has other things to worry about: Practicing his violin at every free moment, complaints from sleep-deprived neighbors create a controversy that reaches the attention of the residential council, causing loss of face for his ma. She can’t understand his fascination with an exotic instrument deemed unsuitable for his low social class, particularly when he might apply that energy to relieving their poverty and enhancing marital chances (in which he shows no interest). The last straw comes when he gets a better-paying job on a factory assembly line, but quits because it leaves no time for the violin.

Decision seems so crazy that he’s briefly muscled into a mental institution. But at last Wu makes everyone understand: “This is the first time I am doing something I enjoy — all my life other people have told me what to do.” Still, close sounds a melancholy note.

Gentle social comedy is anchored by Lin’s soulful, Chaplinesque turn as the inarticulate hero, with support perfs ably etched in broader strokes. While gist is familiar, unpretentious staging and realistic milieu keep “Violin” from seeming overcalculated. Onscreen title translation was the longer “A Violin From a Passing Truck,” though winnowed moniker is the one intended for foreign auds.

Violin

China

Production

A DC Pictures Inc. and Shanghai Film Studios presentation. Produced by Zhu Yongde. Executive producers, Xu Pengle, Wu Wen Feng. Directed by Jiang Cheng. Screenplay, Zhou Wei, Cheng, Ma Ning.

Crew

Camera (color), Qian Tao; editor, Cheng Xiao Hong; music supervisor, Yuan Pei Wen; art director, Zhou Xin Ren; costume designer, Wang Haiting; sound, Liu Bao Lin. Reviewed at Cinequest Film Festival, San Jose, March 7, 2003. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Gu Jing Lin, Annie Wu, Cheng Qi, Zhao Liang, Lu Sha, Yang Xiao Wen, Weis Guo Chun, Wang Yu, Zhou Guo Bin, Gao Yin, Xu Yu Lan, Hai Da, Chen Wei Guo, Sun Dong Guang. (Mandarin, with English subtitles)
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