A dreamlike fantasy about a young porter in a stark Peking loony bin and the beautiful young patient he befriends, “Red Beads” looks set for only limited unspoolings on the fest circuit but announces a talent of some conviction and technique.
Director He Yi (real name, He Jianjun) graduated from Peking Film Academy in 1990 and worked as an assistant to both Zhang Yimou (on “Raise the Red Lantern”) and Tian Zhuangzhuang (“The Blue Kite”). Present item is a totally indie production, shot over 12 days in late 1992 in b&w, free of government controls.
Slow-burning relationship between the disturbed girl (played by popular actress Shi Ke) and young man (Liu Jiang) gathers genuine warmth, ending with a chaste cuddle on a bed and his assuming her dementia of dreaming of “red beads.”
Pic can be read as a political allegory on social controls in China — inmates are a cross-section of society, reduced to zombies, and the hospital head (Tian Gechen) boasts they all get “special care.”
Style is consciously arty, with exaggerated sound effects, repeated scenes of routine, a discreet musique concrete soundtrack, and low-key perfs. Lapses into pretentiousness are rare. A framing device ends the film on an upbeat note.
Tech credits are fine for a no-budgeter. Original title literally means “Suspended Love.”