A companion piece to his Golden Lion winner “Still Life,” Jia Zhangke’s docu “Dong” was conceived first, after artist (and onetime actor) Liu Xiaodong invited the helmer to film him painting in the Three Gorges area before China’s controversial dam project flooded the region. Publicized as a commentary on forced migration and urbanization, pic feels more like unedited rushes casually spliced together, with only occasional nods to the subjects and their environment. Mildly attractive, insubstantial docu is a minor addition to Jia’s canon, sure to be paired with “Still Life” on DVD release.
Against the rainy backdrop of the Three Gorges, Liu poses and paints 11 men on a 33-foot polyptych, all local peasants who’ve been demolishing nearby towns before the flooding begins. Halfway through, Liu decamps to color-filled Bangkok, where he paints 11 sultry gals on similarly large canvases. Closing image of two blind men moving through a crowded market may be a commentary on consumerism, but subtleties, like docu itself, are too slight to make an impact. “Dong” means “East” in Mandarin, though it’s also the name of Liu’s character in Wang Xiaoshuai’s seminal film “The Days.”