In a generic package of contempo Chinese success stories has flickers of interest, but their repetitive message of hard work and perseverance becomes a didactic drone.
The combination of Sino-style wisdom and chutzpah that has changed (and keeps changing) China is showcased in short-docu compilation “Yulu.” Festival darling Jia Zhangke leads a coterie of mostly unknown, mostly mainland Chinese filmmakers to deliver a generic package of contempo Chinese success stories. The stories have flickers of interest, but their repetitive message of hard work and perseverance becomes a didactic drone. Sponsored by a Western whiskey company, pic could be fragmented for Internet postings, but the package will score fest slots on Jia’s name alone.
Seven filmmakers, including Jia, offer upbeat docus about 12 prominent Chinese personalities, from artist Xu Bing to environmentalist Zhiao Zhong. Segs uniformly fit the chic advertising slickness of Jia’s opening template as subjects pontificate about life, delivering carpe diem messages too short to resonate emotionally. Malaysian Tan Chui-mui distinguishes herself by shooting in monochrome, but like the other shorts, her piece on journalist Wang Keqin uses wobble-cam and fails to scratch below the surface. Each seg’s intro title card sports the icon of the whiskey sponsor, but pic avoids product placement as judiciously as it avoids history and economics. Title means “wise words.”