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China, 1985 (MIFF 1988, Asian Cinema Showcase)

Director: Chen Kaige

One of the most startling things about The Big Parade is how little its formal and visual qualities resemble Chen's internationally acclaimed debut feature, Yellow Earth. But perhaps the most salient and controversial aspect about its production has been the intervention of the authorities, who shelved its release for two years until certain revisions were made, including a different, more positive ending

While Chen has claimed this is not exactly the film he and Zhang Yimou (see Red Sorghum) originally intended, this is an astonishing piece of cinema which recounts the experiences of raw recruits having to undergo harsh training sessions, using this plot to frame an allegory on the stupidities of mindless allegiance and the tensions that can arise between individual thoughts and the collective mentality. We witness six soldiers of varying ages and class background preparing for the eponymous big parade held in Beijing's central square m 1984 to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Communist China.

Over 10,000 people trained for 8 months (each chalking up about 10,000kms) to climax in one minute's worth of parading across famous Tiananmen Square. The director's first cut climaxed with a tableau of figures m silhouette against a fading sun. The final film finishes with the big national parade shot m slow motion to the pompous strains of victorious music. However, this adjusted coda does nothing to weaken the filmmakers' telling metaphor for the state of modern China, nor eliminate the sly, satirical sub-text to all the onscreen display of preening magnificence and might A memorable highlight of our Asian showcase - P.K.

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