Review: ‘River People’

Teasingly halfway between documentary and fiction, "River People" limns the hardscrabble life of fishermen on China's Yellow River with a half-elegiac, half-realistic eye, from the p.o.v. of two teenage boys.

Teasingly halfway between documentary and fiction, “River People” limns the hardscrabble life of fishermen on China’s Yellow River with a half-elegiac, half-realistic eye, from the p.o.v. of two teenage boys. Dour overall tone and thin content make this a stretch at an hour and a half, though fests may show interest due to the name of writer-helmer He Jianjun (“Red Beads,” “Postman”). Cutting by 30 minutes could equip this for educational channels or pubcaster slots.

Film’s opening credits list only the names of the three protags: 18-year-old Laba (Shan Jingqin), who supplies a downbeat v.o.; his more educated cousin, Baowa (Shan Jingtao), who wants to ankle for big city; and Baowa’s dad (Shan Haoshan), who’s always warning against it. Only in the end credits are their real names listed, confirming the pic was actually staged. The extended family runs a tiny fish restaurant, while the boys have desultory arguments out on the river, whose muddy waters and vast sandbanks prove heavy trawling, especially in winter. Only question is whether or not Baowa will finally leave. Leisurely lensing is fine, and Zhang Yi’s gentle, fretted music adds an occasional poetic element.

River People

China

Production

A Beijing Jingle Culture Development Co. production. (International sales: Beijing Jingle Culture Development, Beijing.) Produced by Shan Dongbing. Executive producer, Wang Min. Directed, written by He Jianjun.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Guo Zhirong, Ma Ke; editor, Qi Ziyi; music, Zhang Yi. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 7, 2008. Running time: 91 MIN.

With

Shan Jingtao, Shan Jingqin, Shan Haoshan, Shan Jinghua, Shan Jinglong, Xu Mingying, Shan Songshan, Shan Heishan, Shan Yunshan, Ji Guixia, Ji Guiyun, Shan Xiaoxing, Shan Guiying.
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