Based on images shot by filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha during her travels through Chinese villages in the optimistic days prior to the events of Tiananmen Square, <i>Shoot for the Contents</i> builds its meaning through the subtle and rigorous editing of these images to a sound track carefully constructed after the fact. “Let a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend” is the saying by Chairman Mao that animates Trinh’s investigation of the truths and fictions through which all those living (or visiting) in China today must sort.
While the film’s title refers to a common Chinese guessing game, its form echoes the musical structure of traditional Chinese opera. Popular songs, classical music, Confucian sayings, and the words of artists and philosophers all combine to constitute the film’s riddle of cultural meaning. Trinh frames the film with a visually austere, but verbally rich, dialogue between Bay Area activist Ying Lee-Kelley and actress Dewi Yee. East meets West as their voices weave through the film, expressing opinions on China that range from reverence to dissent. There’s also a fascinating interview with Chinese director Wu Tianming (Old Well), in which he contrasts the fate of independent filmmaking in the People’s Republic with its situation in the West.
With its elegantly nonlinear constructions, <i>Shoot for the Contents</i> permits the audience to meditate upon complex issues free of the pressure of structured argument. Instead the viewer must navigate alone the disorientations and cultural translations that are normally encountered only by an international traveler—without the easy guidebook usually offered by the sort of documentary that seeks to present “other” cultures without complication.
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