THE FOOLISH BIRD
Directed by Huang Ji, Ryuji Otsuka
Jury Special Mention, Generation 14plus, 2017 Berlin International Film Festival
Best Artistic Originality Award, 2017 Xining First International Film Festival
In THE FOOLISH BIRD, 16-year-old Lynn shields her face with a dense cave of hair, the long black locks of J-horror and adolescent hiding places. Lynn is one of China’s many “left-behind” children, living with grandparents and cousins in an emptied-out small town while her mother hustles in an economic stream far away. By day, Lynn bicycles under antiseptic skies between the pathologic bullying of her classmates and the refuge of her best friend May. At night she peels off her school uniform and wanders under lights the color of gummy bears, visiting internet cafes and hair salons on streets whose vacancy suggests menacing futures along with emptied-out pasts. Present at every turn is the cell phone, creeping like invasive ivy into every role and location – schools, revenge, light source, teen envy, blackmail, money, witness. With a serial rapist murderer still at-large and the scamming of elderly townspeople as backdrop, Lynn and May decide to launch an illegal enterprise selling confiscated student phones to strangers they meet online, a dangerous path that leads to freedom, sexual assault, and unexpected loss.
Huang Ji and Ryuji Otsuka pull no punches, slowly building tension alert to the ways small shifts in power crumble any sense of safety for Lynn, who wanders as if caught in time over slowly melting ground. As THE FOOLISH BIRD portrays how larger economic forces are felt at the microscopic level, Lynn’s teenage mask starts to feel like the numbing confusion of impossible pain. Huang returns to her hometown and works with the same non-professional cast from her award-winning Egg and Stone, including Yao Honggui, who delivers the untranslatable corrugated interior of young vulnerability in the midst of massive social change – a pair of eyes peering from a wall of hair and a face of stone. –Christina Ree