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Profound Portrayal of Chinese Mob Psychology

作者:毛思慧  来源:Chinese Cross Currents, Vol. 4, No. 1, January  浏览量:5296    2009-09-15 23:27:26


Profound Portrayal of Chinese Mob Psychology:
Reading Qi Jian’s The Forest Ranger (Tian gou, 2006)
Mao Sihui
       Within the world of Chinese cinema, the year 2006 does not really belong to mega productions by big masters such as Zhang Yimou’s Curse of the Golden Flower (Man cheng jin dai huang jin jia), Chen Kaige’s The Promise (Wu ji) or Feng Xiaogang’s The Banquet (Ye yan). In my opinion, 2006 will be remembered as a year for a new kind of cinema represented by films such as Ning Hao’s Crazy Stone (Feng kuang de shi tou) and Qi Jian’s The Forest Ranger (Tian gou). Crazy Stone is one of most intelligent (with all sorts of twists and turns in the narrative) and satirical Chinese films that vividly (with black humour) depict the insatiable greed (mainly of thieves, triads and treasure hunters) in contemporary China. But The Forest Ranger, based on Zhang Ping’s novel “The Criminal” (Xiong fan), would be my choice for the Film of the Year.

       Winning both the “Best Feature Film” at the 13th Beijing Student Film Festival and the “Jury Grand Prix” at the 2006 Shanghai International Film Festival, The Forest Ranger was commended for having created “a striking and memorable portrayal of village life in the mountains, with an honourable man caught between his personal morality, the needs of his family, and powerful pressure to compromise his values. The villagers, good and bad, are entertainingly realised, and the detective story format is well handled”. Artistically innovative and thematically daring, the film has been well received by both critics and the general audience. Undoubtedly, The Forest Ranger is a very politically motivated film as it deals with the serious issue of environmental protection, featuring Li Tiangou (Fu Dalong), a retired ex-serviceman and hero (crippled in a battle against the Vietnamese) who is assigned to protect a remote state-owned forest, a job that he takes seriously but, when he fights single-handedly against the corrupt and evil forces of the local community, it eventually costs his life (well, almost his life as he lies in bed in an eternal coma).  
The film opens and also ends with a very bloody and shocking sequence: Tiangou, almost beaten to death by a ruthless gang of mob (in fact, they are mostly the villagers), kills the three evil brothers from the Kong family (four brothers in the original novel The Criminal) with an old gun that he carries around on his beat in the forest, thus Tiangou becomes a “criminal”. The narrative unfolds with the investigation of a police officer with interviews of the villagers/local officials and with clues from Tiangou’s blood-stained diary. In the village near the forest, the villagers have been logging illegally for their livelihood for a long time but none could be compared with the three Kong brothers, notoriously nicknamed as “Three Dragons”. Rich and powerful as a result of illegal logging and selling and other unlawful dealings, they enjoy a high status like feudal lords but behave like despots and scoundrels, bullying and forcing everyone to bow down to their will. As soon as Tiangou arrives at the village, while the villagers stage a dramatic welcome ritual and later fill in Tiangou’s courtyard with gifts to bribe him, the three brothers begin their plan to lure him into their trap. But Tiangou is so astonished and angry to discover what they have done to the forest that he makes up his mind to fight against them at all costs.
The film does not follow the style of a typical American western in characterising the hero as a lonely ranger on horseback. It looks straight into the complex political, social, economic and psychological contexts in which Tiangou, a noble, simple and honest man, has to come to terms with his moral duty, family needs, personal integrity and social justice. But the power of the evil forces, the indifference of the mob and the cruelty of social reality combine to take their toll on Tiangou. The three brothers use every means to take revenge on Tiangou who simply refuses their offer. They cut off the electricity and stop the water supply to Tiangou’s house, humiliate his wife (Zhu Yuanyuan) and abduct his son. Tiangou, however, firmly sticks to his principle and continues to carry out his duties. Totally unsupported, he guards the forest with an old gun and his crippled leg. Finally, the three greedy desperate brothers gather a gang of mob (including Tiangou’s “friends” from the village) and begin to close in upon Tiangou like a huge pack of hungry wolves. George Orwell observes in his novel 1984, “Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing”. Here we see such “new shapes” in evil monstrosity against humanity itself, humanity reduced to such a vulnerable and pathetic state: fists, kicks, bricks, rocks, hoes, shovels, hatchets, iron bars …. With both legs and back broken, Tiangou falls down into the big pool of blood (his own blood) and begins to see visions of flames, smokes and death that he once saw on the battlefield. He lost one leg years ago fighting the “enemy” on the battlefield, but now he loses the other leg as well as his human dignity among his own people.
Unlike many “typical” protagonists in Chinese mainstream cinema, Tiangou does not speak the empty and inflated communist rhetoric or quote the usual officialese of protecting the forest as an expression of love for one’s motherland or for mankind. In fact, he is rather inarticulate, letting his acts of courage and determination speak for himself and humanity. On the surface, the film is clearly demonstrating the heroic deeds of a communist member in protecting state property and the environment. But deep down, the film powerfully exposes not only the ugly underbelly of contemporary Chinese society where the rich and powerful terrorize the poor and powerless but also the most negative side of the Chinese National Character – bullying the weak and fearing the strong, which is an inherent weakness of Chinese mob psychology as we have seen (or heard of, at least) in so many terrifying cases of inhumanity during the “Great Cultural Revolution”, a revolution that brought out the basest and darkest side of humanity in the history China. This type of stark “critical social realism” employed in both the novel and film challenges and deconstructs the beautiful myth that “the Chinese people are the most hardworking and courageous people, the most righteous and kind-hearted people in the world”.
In this film, you see how “individual evil” represented by the three Kong brothers becomes “collective evil” when common folks are terrorized for so long and become indifferent to basic moral standards and social justice. China has, since the introduction of the Reform and Open Door Policy in the early 1980s, created miracles of economic development and social wealth, but many parts of China, especially the underdeveloped rural areas, are still trampled by forces of evil and lawlessness. In Tiangou’s heroic and lonely fight against evil, he never compromises, but the villagers, the village head (Liu Zifeng), the local officials and even Tiangou’s wife all give themselves up because there has been too much injustice, too much cruelty and too much evil. In contemporary China, the rule of law is but a beautiful utopian dream long deferred and we have very few people like Tiangou who risk their lives for a just cause but the so-called silent majority are not only morally indifferent but actually take part in the persecution against humanity. Indeed, mob psychology in its worst possible form. This, in my opinion, is the tragic vision that The Forest Ranger has so touchingly presented.
Note on the director Qi Jian: Graduated from the Art Department of Beijing Film Academy, Qi Jian directed in 1985 the TV series News Apocalypse which was awarded the first prize of the 5th "Fei Tian" Award. In 1997, his feature film Season of Flowers Season of Rains (Hua ji yu ji) won both the Chinese Government Award (Hua Biao Prize) and the 18th Chinese Golden Rooster Award. His film Female Coach with her Male Player won the Chinese Government Award (Hua Biao Prize) again and participated in the Montreal International Film Festival and also the Tokyo International Film Festival.