You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Black Blood

The Cathay countryside and its inhabitants have rarely looked drearier than in "Black Blood," Zhang Miaoyan's impressive second feature.

With: Mao Danhui, Liu Mengjuan, Yingying. (Mandarin dialogue)

The Cathay countryside and its inhabitants have rarely looked drearier than in “Black Blood,” Zhang Miaoyan’s impressive second feature. Set in a hostile area beyond the Great Wall and shot in beautifully textured, black-and-white HD, the pic charts the downfall of a dirt poor family after they’ve started selling their own blood for money — and subsequent contracts AIDS. Zhang’s formally rigorous and quietly observational portrait manages to transfigure a topical subject into a specific study of abject poverty and human desperation. At two hours-plus, the demanding pic is most at home at cinephile and Asian events.

Though it clearly tells the story of an entire region, “Black Blood” focuses on just a small nuclear family consisting of Xiaolin (Mao Danhui), his wife, Xiaojuan (Liu Mengjuan), and their daughter, Ying (Yingying), who goes to primary school. To pay for tuition, Xiaolin needs money that the unproductive soil around the village can’t provide, which leads him to volunteer to sell his blood to a man in a passing cart.

The actual act isn’t shown, as the vehicle and its owner remain in extreme longshot, with the camera actually moving sideways during the blood-tapping. This not only reinforces the idea that society looks away regarding such matters, it also imbues the scene — framed by a hulking and unforgiving landscape of barren rocks — with Faustian undertones.

Though Xiaolin initially rejects the idea, his wife also starts donating not much later, and they soon find themselves in water-drinking contests to compensate for their blood loss, shown in fixed medium shots that unspool in real-time. The couple’s idea to set up a blood transfusion center initially seems to bring them some prosperity, though the film’s dark and ominous undercurrents soon rear their head.

Helmer-editor and co-scribe Zhang is also credited with the almost tactile black-and-white cinematography, which includes a few striking Steadicam shots. An impressive sequence in which an ill Xiaojuan is transported to the city on a mule-drawn cart clearly echoes the work of the maestro of colorless miserablism, Bela Tarr.

Though the narrative, stripped back to its bare essentials, is captivating, the pic’s second hour is not as strong, with its impact muddled by some shots without any clear meaning. A division into chapters (“The Great Smoke,” “The Great Gate”) feels artificial, as does the presence of a few shots in color, which show a factory almost hidden in ominous billows of smoke.

Pic was shot north of the crumbling Great Wall, near a nuclear testing ground and in an area often hit by sand storms, and the arid and unwelcoming landscape is a character in itself.

Score is largely absent, and sound work superb, with the chirpy optimism of the State Radio broadcasts a painful contrast to the day-to-day reality of the villagers. A few shards of the sparse dialogue and a twist of sorts in the final shot add some much-needed dry wit.

Black Blood


Production: An Arizona Films Distribution release (in France) of a Rice Production, Arizona Films production. (International sales: Arizona Films, Paris.) Produced by Miaoyan Zhang, Guillaume de Seille. Directed, edited by Zhang Miaoyan. Screenplay, Zhang, Yang Zhihong.

Crew: Camera (B&W/color, HD, widescreen), Zhang; music, Andy F. Butler, Annette Bauer; sound, Jin Juhong; assistant director, An Huijun. Reviewed at MK2 Beaubourg, Paris, Dec. 13, 2011. (In 2011 Rotterdam, Thessaloniki, Jeonju festivals.) Running time: 127 MIN.

With: With: Mao Danhui, Liu Mengjuan, Yingying. (Mandarin dialogue)

More Film

  • Summer Box Office: 'Avengers: Endgame,' 'Lion

    Summer Box Office: Five Weekends to Watch

    Popcorn season is upon us, and it’ll be up to comic-book heroes, a wise-cracking genie, and a lion who would be king to ensure movie theaters are still the hottest place to spend the summer. Last summer, blockbusters like “Avengers: Infinity War,” “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” Ocean’s 8,” and “The Meg” drove moviegoers to their [...]

  • Critics Week

    Cannes Critics’ Week Unveils Its Lineup

    Lorcan Finnegan’s science-fiction thriller “Vivarium” with Jesse Eisenberg and Imogen Poots, Jérémy Clapin’s fantasy-filled animated feature “I Lost My Body,” and Hlynur Pálmason’s Icelandic drama “A White, White Day” are among the 11 films set to compete at Critics’ Week, the section dedicated to first and second films that runs parallel with the Cannes Film [...]

  • China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails

    China Box Office: 'Wonder Park' Fails to Impress While 'P Storm' Rages On

    Even on one of the quietest weekends of the year, new U.S. animated release “Wonder Park” failed to inspire Chinese audiences as much as Hong Kong and Indian movies already in their third weekend in theaters. Starring the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Garner, Mila Kunis, and Ken Jeong, among many others, the film [...]

  • David Picker dead

    David Picker, Studio Chief Who Acquired James Bond Novels for UA, Dies at 87

    David Picker, who headed United Artists, Paramount and Columbia’s motion picture divisions and was known for forging relationships with groundbreaking filmmakers and material, died Saturday in New York. He was 87 and had been suffering from colon cancer. MGM tweeted, “We are saddened to hear that a member of the United Artists family has passed [...]

  • Abigail Disney on Bob Iger

    Abigail Disney Calls Bob Iger's $65 Million Compensation 'Insane'

    Disney chairman-CEO Bob Iger’s total compensation for Disney’s fiscal 2018 was a whopping $65.6 million. Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Disney co-founder Roy Disney, calls that sum “insane.”  While speaking at the Fast Company Impact Council, the filmmaker and philanthropist insisted that this level of corporate payout has a “corrosive effect on society.” Disney took [...]

  • 'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International

    'Curse of La Llorona' Tops International Box Office With $30 Million

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” led the way at the international box office, summoning $30 million when it opened in 71 foreign markets. The supernatural thriller collected $26.5 million in North America for a global start of $56.5 million. “La Llorona,” based on the Mexican folklore about the Weeping Woman, [...]

  • Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona'

    Box Office: 'Curse of La Llorona' Wins Worst Easter Weekend in Over a Decade

    Warner Bros. and New Line’s “The Curse of La Llorona” ascended to the top of domestic box office charts, conjuring $26.5 million when it opened in 3,372 North American theaters. “La Llorona” is the latest horror movie to outperform expectations, further cementing the genre as one of the most reliable box office draws. Even so, [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content