Modern folk tale "The Sunflowers" won't bloom far beyond the festival circuit but has a stylish, balladic style that feels fresh in the usually navel-gazing arena of Mainland indie production. Relying considerably on the music of real-life street singer Yang Yi, helmer Wang Baomin finds a visual style that matches Yang's songs.

An intriguing first feature by Chinese writer-director Wang Baomin, modern folk tale “The Sunflowers” won’t bloom far beyond the festival circuit but has a stylish, balladic style that feels fresh in the usually navel-gazing arena of Mainland indie production. Relying considerably on the music of real-life street singer Yang Yi, helmer Wang finds a visual style — like a contempo version of a Spaghetti Western — that matches Yang’s songs.

Divided into five chapters, pic opens with Yang strolling into a dusty town in western China and singing a song on his guitar about a man coming down from a mountain. Sure enough, along comes young Ma Xiaogang (Wang Minjie), after six years in stir, who gets a job selling roasted sunflower seeds on the street. Befriended by a girl (Wu Yingying) who nurses him during a fever, Ma finds himself besieged by memories of an earlier love, schoolteacher Mei (Sun Qian); of a ruffian youth spent in the sunflower fields outside town; and of the crime that got him jailed. Though overlong at 98 minutes, laconic pic has an engaging simplicity, and lensing by Qi Rui is impeccable.

The Sunflowers

China

Production

A Beijing Sunflower Film Workshop, Xi'an Film Studio production. (International sales: Fanhall Studio, Beijing.) Produced by Fu Xiaohong. Directed, written by Wang Baomin.

Crew

Camera (color), Qi Rui; editor, He Yiping; music-songs, Yang Yi; art directors, Ma Yun, Zhao Jingtao; costume designer, Lin Yu'na. Reviewed at Venice Film Festival (Critics' Week), Sept. 8, 2005. Mandarin dialogue. Running time: 98 MIN.

With

Wang Minjie, Sun Qian, Wu Yingying, Yang Yi, Tian Hao, Liu Zhongsong.
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