|Starring||Chen Jianbin, Zhou Xun, Deng Chengpeng, Jessie Li, Leah Dou|
Welcome to our review of the Chinese black comedy movie The Eleventh Chapter.
What’s this movie about?
In The Eleventh Chapter, we follow Ma Fuli and a whole host of his family, friends and complete strangers after he learns the local theatre is putting on a performance based on a 30-year old murder case about him killing his ex-wife and her lover.
The issue for Ma Fuli is that the story isn’t exactly accurate, and try as he might, he can’t seem to convince anyone to change it and clear his name.
But more and more parties get involved in the play, who each want to have their say in how the story gets told.
Is it Worth Watching?
This is both a slow burning and fast paced movie. The movie is split into 11 chapters, hence the name of the title, with the story and protagonists slowly being revealed while the dialogue speeds through at a rapid pace. Certainly the first 30 minutes are the key to this movie, so ensure you are keeping up with the rather speedy subtitles.
Skirting around potential issues, the use of black comedy lightens up the tone of a rather dark subject. Ma Fuli is accused of killing his wife and her lover in tractor accident. It’s implied it was a crime of passion, a man who caught his adulterous wife in the act, but the truth is far more mundane. He had no idea what was going on, and his foot just slipped off the brakes!
He is a clueless man, content with a simple life, and he is easily swayed by the opinions of others. It’s almost as if he doesn’t have his own personality, but at the same time he knows exactly what he wants.
Writer, director and lead actor Chen Jianbin takes on the role of Ma Fuli, a rather laid back and indecisive man. Joining him is Zhou Xun as his dominant wife and Leah Dou, real life daughter of famous Chinese singer and actress Faye Wong, as his step-daughter.
These two women play an important part of Ma Fuli’s story. His wife wants him to forget about the play while his step-daughter, a product of the new generation of Chinese youth, wants him to fight for justice. The differences between Chinese generations is firmly on display here, exacerbated even further by the elderly busy-body neighbour who chiles the step-daughter for not respecting her supposedly pregnant mother.
But the theme of this movie goes beyond family generations, as the movie dares to explore the influence of rich sponsors and government bureaucrats on the truth. And that’s the most exciting element of this movie.
Chen Jianbin has dared to explore how interference of the powerful can be used to suppress information. From a rich businessman who wants to sponsor the theatre hoping to ensure some adjustments are made to the story, to the government representative who stops the play mid-performance to provide some not-so-subtle feedback to the theatre owner; a clear line is drawn to the audience about who holds the power in Chinese society. And its clear its not the little guy.
Also adding to the charm of the movie is the wide variety of supporting characters that populate the world of Ma Fuli. The eccentric director who is cheating on his wife, cameoed by Song Jia, who refuses to make any changes to the story. There is the lead actress of the play, played by Jessie Li, who realises she’s only there because the director wants to sleep with her. In order to prove herself as a serious actress, her performance changes from just playing a character to method acting as she goes off to explore the truth of what happened and learns more about the character she is playing.
A social commentary wrapped up in a black comedy, where have I seen something like that before? I am not implying this is at that level, but its certainly entertaining enough to make 2 hours feel like much less.
This is an entertaining film, but make sure you can keep up with those speedy subtitles, and as seems to be the new normal in Chinese cinema, make sure you stick around for post-credit sequences as it importantly wraps up a few of the movie’s storylines.
I give this one a thumbs up
If you’ve seen it, what did you think?