Surveillance

Full of well-drawn, sympathetic characters and a deep-seated irony at many aspects of mainland Chinese life, "Surveillance" isn't the kind of movie to set major festivals alight, but is an engaging and pointed light drama that deserves TV exposure and maybe limited theatrical sales. Fans of co-director Huang Jianxin's previous works like "Stand Up, Don't Bend Over" and "Back to Back, Face to Face" won't be disappointed by this latest offering, though it is unlikely to go down so well with foreign crix who like their Chinese movies in self-consciously high-art mode. Film opens like a commercial thriller, with a dock worker's family murdered and robbed, and the cops, led by ace crime-buster Yang Gao (Zhang Xiaotong), throwing a net around the city for master criminal the Wise One (Niu Zhenhua). A key part of the surveillance is a stakeout of one of the Wise One's hideouts: easygoing port guard Ye (Feng Gong) and his punctilious superior Tian (Teng Rujun) are assigned to observe the place from a water tower in some railroad sidings.

With:
Ye Minzhu ... Feng Gong Bai Lin ... Jiang Shan Tian Gongshun ... Teng Rujun Yang Gao ... Zhang Xiaotong The Wise One ... Niu Zhenhua Lin Daowei ... Shi Xiaohong Qiu Jianguo ... Guo Donglin Tian's wife ... Zhao Xiuyun

Ye’s life is an ordinary one: He and his g.f., Bai Lin (Jiang Shan), are in love, but he has no prospects and she works in a failing vidstore. Proud to be assigned the stakeout, Ye follows orders and doesn’t tell Bai Lin where he is nights, causing a rift in their relationship that’s deepened by the sudden reappearance of an old boyfriend (Shi Xiaohong). Worse, the message for Ye and Tian to abandon their stakeout doesn’t get through and, when Tian is hospitalized with terminal liver cancer, Ye doggedly takes over the watch ’round the clock.

Though the movie is adapted from a novel of the same name, its take on the characters is very similar to Huang’s trilogy of contemporary Mainland life (“Stand Up,” “Back to Back,” and last year’s “Signal Left, Turn Right”), with officialdom blindly following set patterns and ordinary Joes muddling through. What lifts Huang’s movies from many other of his contemporaries’ is his generous view of human beings, for all their faults, with no real villains. Even the arch-criminal here (cameoed by popular comedian Niu) is given a moment at the end that fleshes out his character.

Aside from the flashy opening, direction by Huang and TV helmer Yang Yazhou is realistic and unobtrusive, focusing on the players and their emotions. Feng is excellent as the hangdog, well-meaning Ye; Jiang, a pert looker, also is natural as his conflicted g.f.; and Teng gives the role of Ye’s older colleague considerable substance in the latter stages. Zhang is passingly humorous as the narcissistic crime-buster.

Technically, the film is fine and Zhang Dalong’s music, though a tad soupy, adds to the overall warmth of the emotions on display. Pic’s Chinese title is closer to “Stakeout,” in the sense of a trap waiting to be sprung. The movie has also been officially dubbed by Beijing as one of the 10 best films of the past

Surveillance

Chinese

Production: A Xiaoxiang Film Studio/Asian Union Film & Entertainment release (in China) of a Xiaoxiang Film Studio, Ginwa Enterprise Group production. (International sales: Asian Union, Beijing.) Produced by Kang Jianmin. Executive producer, Wu Yijian. Directed by Huang Jianxin, Yang Yazhou. Screenplay, Sun Yuan, from the novel by Fang Fang.

Crew: Camera (color), Yang Wei; editor, Lei Qin; music, Zhang Dalong; art direction, Teng Jie; sound (Dolby), Yan Jun. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 20, 1997. Running time: 104 MIN. (Mandarin dialogue)

With: Ye Minzhu ... Feng Gong Bai Lin ... Jiang Shan Tian Gongshun ... Teng Rujun Yang Gao ... Zhang Xiaotong The Wise One ... Niu Zhenhua Lin Daowei ... Shi Xiaohong Qiu Jianguo ... Guo Donglin Tian's wife ... Zhao Xiuyun

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