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China, 1995 (MIFF 1996, Contemporary World Cinema )

Director: Zhang Ming

At last, a Chinese feature that gets to grips with everyday contemporary life. Gone is the stylised historical drama of older directors like Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou. Like Sons (also showing in this year's festival) and a number of other films currently held up by the Chinese censors, In Expectation indicates a shift to contemporary topics.

Wushan is a nondescript town on the banks of the Yangtze River Gorge. Soon to be swamped by a controversial dam project, it is doomed. So too is the job of Mai Qiang, the isolated operator of a lighthouse above the gorges, and that of Chen Qing, a worker in a hotel frequented by tourists eager to see the famous gorges before they disappear. Like most of the other characters in the film, and like so many people in China today. Mai and Chen harbour hidden hopes and dreams which are destined never to be fulfilled and when they have to face the fact, trouble starts.

First-time director Zhang Min's narrative is cleverly elusive It hops from one character's story to another with little apparent connection. but eventually pulls them all together in the manner of Taiwanese director Edward Yang. Hong Kong's Kar Wai or Tarantino in Pulp Fiction After a slow start, Mai Qiang and Chen Qing's apparently separate lives are linked disastrously. Facing rejection from Chen, hotel manager Old Mo goes to the police and accuses Mai of raping her. At this point, the quiet life that has been driving everyone crazy is indeed over. (cb)

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