残废科幻 (“Can Fei Ke Huan”), quite crudely translated as “Deformity Sci-Fi”, is a peculiar, heady mix, shot in Shanxi, the hometown of up and coming Chinese indie director Jianqiang Xue (a.k.a. Kokoka). It follows the lives and misdemeanors of a gang of lowly thugs as they go about their daily business, arguing, fighting, drinking, collecting money and committing crimes against the backdrop of an imminent alien visitation.
In the background, news broadcasts and train announcements provide context, revealing details of a visiting Martian delegation. Mars, as the nearest planet to Earth with a habitable atmosphere, has always provided a rich source for the global sci-fi imagination. The Chinese are not an exception, 火星文 (“Huo Xing Wen”) or Martian, being the name they have given for unconventional use of their language online. And with its ever increasingly population, China would certainly benefit from a Mars settlement.
Yet, beyond the introduction of a curfew, as signaled by evening sirens, there seemed to be absolutely no measures taken, or excitement raised by the rather monumental news of a visit from outer space. There is very little indication that the world in the film is any different from the real one. Whilst the main character, Clam, experiences both unconscious and conscious extraterrestrial experiences, neither seem to have any impact on his life or actions.
As the film grinds on, and we watch these rural hoodlums head to the “big“ city of Taiyuan and become small fish in a marginally bigger pond, one keeps expecting the appearance of plot. Experiences that change their lives, or some sort of redemption, or an explanation of why they are they way they are. There is none.
The film’s combination of grim events, stark and lurid settings, documentary style sound mix, narrative and camera angles, with 80s art house depictions of extraterrestrial activity, leaves the viewer disassociated, but not necessarily in an intended manner. In fact, Deformity Sci-Fi seems very much to be a film of the “Dis”.
Disassociation is brought out in the incongruity between the commerciality that is always in the background on TV, and the grim everyday lives of our characters. The faux designer goods they sport, and the ramshackle lives they lead. Between the high sentiments in the songs these thugs select at karaoke, and their mindlessly destructive selfishness and cruelty.
Disorientation is expressed through wild camera angles, spinning and cross cutting, especially during the scene of the youths riding their scooters out on the country road.
Disaffection is also expressed through the main character’s series of alien induced stream of consciousness throughout the film.
Before going into the screening, I had been puzzling over why the movie poster has characters that resemble Japanese katakana on it. One of my favourite moments of the entire film is in the opening credits, when those strange characters appeared and slowly moved together, across the screen, to form the Chinese title of the work, providing a visual and poetic representation of the idea of a “deformed” sci-fi story.
As a cultural commentator, I couldn’t help remarking on the regional uniqueness of landscape and customs the filming location brings, from the Shanxi cave-style folk houses to rural customs still kept even in the twenty-first century, such as the traditional way of mourning, the folk style wedding parade and the local (and very gross) ritual of swearing to keep a promise.
If you like experimental cinema, this is worth tracking down, but don’t expect anything pleasing to the eye or lyrical to the soul. Science fiction is a very new genre for China. So far only a few short stories have achieved international fame. So any native Chinese sci-fi output is definitely worth a look.
Kokoka was born in 1984 in Shanxi, China. After dropping out of high school, he went into filmmaking, and has worked on documentaries, feature films, experimental video and animation. The influence of his work on poetry, painting and electronic music can certainly be seen in Deformity Sci-Fi.
If you’re interested in seeing more films at the Chinese Visual Festival this year, check out their programme here:
Posted in Commentary and tagged china, Chinese, cinema, culture, CVF, Deformity Sci-Fi, festival, film, indie, movie, Sci-Fi, Shanxi