Life is hard and then you cry in Zhang Ming's "Folk Songs Singing," an intense meller about a teenage girl infatuated with her music tutor.

Life is hard and then you cry in Zhang Ming’s “Folk Songs Singing,” an intense meller about a teenage girl infatuated with her music tutor. Pic’s origins as a play are still evident in the somewhat schematic structure, but helmer Zhang Ming does an excellent job of opening up the proceedings and draws perfs that match the yarn’s downbeat tone, with lead actress Lv Xingchen burning brightest. Sporadic use of exquisite folk music rounds out the package, making this a prime prospect for widespread fest travel. Pic took kudos at Shanghai for screenplay, music and Lv’s performance.

Police deputy chief Liu (Feng Qingguo) and his family are hosting a mid-autumn festival party on the rooftop of their Ziyang riverside apartment in Sichuan province. Catching the fragmented conversational rhythms of a crowded celebration and the occasional conspiratorial aside, pic quickly establishes that Liu dreams of a promotion, but is not quite aggressive enough to get his way. Liu’s superior, Mr. Zhang, is willing to help if his unsophisticated son, Zhang Xuefeng (Sun Kai), is allowed to marry Liu’s artistically inclined teenage daughter, Xiaoyang (Lv).

Performing at the party is a local choir conducted by music teacher Feng Gang (Jie Ke), whose movie-star looks dazzle the adolescent girl. Gang, it is revealed later, had been living in Beijing, but has returned to Ziyang to attend to his dying mother, who lives on the other, less-prosperous, side of the river, across from the more well-to-do Liu family.

Unwilling to derail his daughter’s creative potential by hooking her up with blockhead Xuefeng, Liu instead hires Gang to be her personal piano and singing tutor. Sensing that Xiaoyang is not entirely focused on her music during lessons, the overly protective father hovers unnecessarily, but can’t prevent romance from blossoming. Pic lurches into its second act with Xiaoyang sporting a more mature hairstyle and cozying up to an older, more academic-looking Gang. It’s unclear how much time has passed, but Xuefeng has just returned from naval service with his desire to woo Xiaoyang undiminished.

Lv gives a seamless performance as the love-struck girl with a creative bent, and manages a convincing transition from adolescence to womanhood. Jie is superbly cool to cold as Gang, making him a difficult character to read until the story plays out. As the father, Feng Qingguo has both a commanding presence and a touch of the theatrical that makes him impossible to ignore, though this does not always work in the pic’s favor.

The film’s legit roots and compelling use of intimate closeups supplies an intensity that recalls British working-class dramas of the “angry young man” era. While the Ziyang setting is picturesque, the choice to shoot during the gray winter months creates an unforgiving, oppressive atmosphere.

Pic makes good use of local folksongs as entertainment and dramatic commentary, their lightness counterbalanced by Wen Zi’s foreboding score. While its onscreen title is “Folk Songs Singing,” the film is being promoted in some territories under the more cumbersome “The Young Man Sings Folk Song in the Opposite Door.”

Folk Songs Singing

China

Production

A Sunny Way Culture Media Co. production. (International sales: the Sunny Way Culture Media Co., Xi'an, China.) Produced by Duan Peng. Executive producer, Ji Duo, Zhang Jiaozhi, Li Xianghong. Co-executive producer, Luo Xue Jian, Wang Xiao-jiang. Directed by Zhang Ming. Screenplay, Zhang based on the play and the novel by Li Chunping.

Crew

Camera (color), Wu Lixiao; editor, Tian Lei; music, Wen Zi; art directors, Wang Hanjun, Wang Daxiong; sound (Dolby Digital), He Bin. Reviewed at Shanghai Film Festival (competing), June, 15, 2011. Running time: 107 MIN.

With

Lv Xingchen, Jie Ke, Feng Qingguo, Sun Kai. (Mandarin dialogue)

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