“Bamboo Shoots” is an immediate and evocative journey through contempo rural China on the back of a low-key satire involving petty politics and an errant condom. Winner of the Bronze Zenith award for first fiction feature in Montreal, this indie production is an instant fest attraction that carries good potential for arthouse play and beyond.
The prophylactic in question is mistaken for a preservative by 50ish Old Yang (Wang Jianbao), who apparently doesn’t get out much. Conscientiously tossing the still-packaged condom into a box of bamboo shoots sent off as a New Year’s gift to township officials, he must now save his village and family from humiliation by getting to the rascal wrapper before they do.
This Quixotic quest grows to encompass a series of pungent rural characters. There are corrupt and ignorant officials, of course, but also a ragtag band of free thinkers, dubbed the Trust Club, whom he teaches how to vote — even though they have trouble finding paper for ballots, and there’s but a single candidate to run the group.
Alarmingly, he finds the box is traveling from “county to township, township to city, city to province,” each step bringing him tantalizingly, unwittingly close to the object of his quest.
Helmer Jian Yi’s stated intent was “a satire on a society where trust, security and truth are just as scarce as genuine commodities.” His entirely nonpro cast sells that concept with affable, naturalistic perfs that mesh seamlessly. Action is set in part against Jian’s own hometown, one of the cradles of Chairman Mao’s revolution.
Tech package, while otherwise modest, sports the precise, crystal-clear hi-def images of the Canon XH G1 camera. Aesthetically, the decision to present tale in longish takes shows in great detail a milieu not often seen this way in the West. Chinese title translates literally as “Winter Bamboo Shoots,” referring to February lensing period coinciding with New Year activities.