"Fujian Blue" reps an uneven yet involving debut by young helmer Robin Weng.

A headlong dive into the company of reckless Chinese youths involved in blackmail and human smuggling, “Fujian Blue” reps an uneven yet involving debut by young helmer Robin Weng. Jaggedly stitched together as two separate chapters with overlapping elements, pic stays afloat thanks to the energy of a nonpro ensemble and sharp observations of social change in one of the first coastal provinces of China to have its doors opened to the outside world. Rough-hewn package is unlikely to be shipped for export, but substantial fest travels look assured.

In the opening section, “The Neon Knights,” life’s a heavily Westernized gas for Amerika (Zhu Xiaopeng), a young delinquent working for blackmail ring operator Roppongi (Zhuang Jian Jie). While not out boozing and taking drugs at ritzy nightspots, the gang is busy collecting large amounts of cash from well-to-do “remittance widows” they’ve caught straying from husbands who work abroad.

A chip off the maternal block, Amerika clashes with his single mother (Wang Ruiyin), an agent for smuggling kingpin the Czech (Gao Qing). Fed up with being hounded for not making the most of his college education, Amerika decides to launch a sting on mom after discovering she’s taken a lover. Clunky, credibility-straining development that eventually backfires sends Amerika into hiding on nearby Pingtan Island, location of the film’s second chapter.

“At Home at Sea” switches the focus to Dragon (top-billed Luo Jin), a member of Amerika’s blackmailing crew, earlier seen stabbing a man and fleeing Pingtan. Tone is much more subdued, as it’s revealed Dragon turned to crime to repay usurious fees charged for his brother’s illegal emigration, and is now faced with the prospect of leaving family behind and following the same perilous route. Events are brought to a poignant close with a black-and-white video letter composed by Dragon’s former friends-in-crime.

Although shaky in its ambitious attempt to connect the two stories, the drama delivers strongly on the central theme of how increased exposure to the West has led some Chinese to indulge in its worst excesses and convinced others that life simply must be better anywhere but home.

Pic is well served by untrained thesps who uniformly bring conviction to their roles, with Wang standing out as the hardened mother who’s both a committed Christian and a player in the dangerous business of human cargo. Excellent use is made of locations, and grainy blowup from 16mm adds to the authentic texture. Rest of tech package is basic but effective enough.

business of human cargo. Excellent use is made of locations, and grainy blowup from 16mm adds to the texture of authenticity. Rest of tech package is basic but effective enough.

Fujian Blue

China

Production

A Fantasy Pictures Entertainment, Indie Film Workshop, Harmony Film Co., Fanhall Films production. (International sales: Fantasy Pictures Entertainment, Beijing.) Produced by Weng Xiuping, Kondo Teiko, Lin Fan. Executive producer, Zhang Xianmin. Directed by Robin Weng. Screenplay, Weng, Chen Tao, Lin Yile.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, Super16 and DV-to-35mm), Hai Tao, Shang Yi, Wang Yan; editor, Zeng Jian; production designers, Weng Yu, Chen Fei; sound (Dolby Digital), Gao Yuguang, Yin Jie; sound designer, Wang Lei. Reviewed at Pusan Intl. Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 5, 2007. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Luo Jin, Zhu Xiaopeng, Chen Shu, Wang Yinan, Zhuang Jian Jie, Wang Ruiyin, Gao Qing, Liu Haochen, Lin Yile. (Hokkienese, Mandarin dialogue)
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