Studio execs trying to rid China of illegal DVDs would tear their hair if they saw “Pirated Copy,” a look at the pervasive influence those enticing discs have on the average Joe and Jane in Beijing. They are never going to make a dent when the cops themselves aren’t busting the dealers — unless they’ve got porn. And if He Jianjun’s raw DV feature is anything to go by, all these pirated discs have created a remarkably well-educated society of cinephiles. Too roughly hewn for average arthouse tastes, pic should do well on international fest circuit.
Helmer He continues to explore issues of voyeurism and alienation as he did in past features (“Butterfly Smile,” “The Postman”), and here he uses the more flexible DV format to create a docu-like look at the lives of people cut off from the Chinese economic miracle who use film as their means of connecting to life.
No stranger to running counter to official Chinese censors (“The Postman” had to be smuggled out of the country for post-production), director He bypassed official clearances thanks to DV: His portrait of lost Beijing residents skirting the law would never have received a green light.
Pic follows several characters involved in selling or buying pirated discs. Shen Ming (Yu Bo) is the manager of a video shop, but life behind the counter is too boring and he’d much rather be home watching DVDs or out on the street selling his illegal wares. Sexually-starved film studies professor Mei Xiaojing (Wang Ya Mei) is teaching an Almodovar class but can’t get the films, so she contacts Shen, who’s able to quickly come up with the goods.
Another big client is a savvy former waitress turned prostitute who’s looking for “In the Mood for Love”; she makes a deal with Shen, providing services in exchange for 50 pirated discs.
Other stories weave in and out, including an unemployed couple (Hu Xiaoguang, NaRen QiMuGe) fixated on “Pulp Fiction” who need money fast to pay for their neglected child’s school fees. There’s also a couple of fake cops who are going around stopping pirated disc sellers and confiscating their wares. All have been left behind by China’s bolting economy and are struggling to make a living.
The overall impression here is of people caught in an uncertain world trying to find ways of expressing themselves as individuals. “Pirated Copy” presents a film-obsessed China with remarkably good taste: Sure, they ask for “Rambo” and “The Lord of the Rings,” but they’re also looking for European arthouse films, and they have decided preferences between European and American porn.
Helmer He again demonstrates that he’s one of the most interesting, and versatile, directors among China’s “Sixth Generation.” His edgy style here, all prowling cameras and shaky lensing, contrasts with the cool austerity of “Butterfly Smile,” but unlike some DV novices he knows what he’s doing, and why, and he achieves it all with a very funny, ironic sense of humor. Music is by China’s best known female punk rocker, Bao Luo, whose TV star sister Wang Ya Mei makes a memorable feature debut.