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River Without Buoys 没有航标的河流
In a tribute to Director Wu Tianming, the UCLA International Institute presents the film, "River without Buoys," as part of their 2014 China Onscreen Biennial.
Tribute to Wu Tianming
Rare 35mm Print! 1983
Director: Wu Tianming
Screenwriter: Ye Weilin
Cinematographer: Liu Changxu, Zhu Kongyang
Production Designer: Lu Guangcai
Composer: Xu Youfu Cast: Li Wei, Tang Qingming, Hu Ronghua, Li Shulan, Song Baosen, Chen Huifen
35mm (TBC), color, in Mandarin w/ English s/t, 99 min
Director Wu Tianming’s complex, elegiac reflection on the Cultural Revolution frames the tumultuous period through the reminiscences of Pan Laowu, a rafter working on the Xiao River. For as long as anyone in the villages and farms along its banks can remember, Pan has journeyed the winding course of the Xiao, a witness to the political and social upheaval unfolding on its shores. On his latest trip, he is joined by his longtime mate, Zhao Liang, and a young, combative new recruit, Shi Gu. After clashing with Shi Gu, who enters Pan’s employ after a corrupt party official broke up his marriage plans, Pan reflects on how he lost his one true love years earlier after he was accused of being a capitalist counter-revolutionary. As the trio travel down river, the stories of the two men begin to converge and Pan is drawn back on to the land and into conflict with the forces of the past in an effort to give Shi Gu and his fiancée the future he was denied.
Produced during a brief window when a public reassessment of the Cultural Revolution was at its height, River Without Buoys levels a surprisingly frank and brutal critique of the era. Wu situates the film’s sharp politics within a deeply felt realism of the kind he championed while head of the Xi’an Film Studio. The flow and flux of the river finds its reflection in Wu’s masterful orchestration of the flow of human events, past and present, memory and time. – Paul Malcolm
Wu Tianming was born in Shaanxi Province in 1939 and graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in the 1970s before being named head of the X’ian Film Studio. Wu transformed the backwater studio into a hotbed of new, creative energy. While directing a series of groundbreaking films himself, including River Without Buoys (1983), Life (1984) and The Old Well (1986), Wu is also acknowledged as the “Godfather of the Fifth Generation” for his mentorship and early support of the group of internationally acclaimed filmmakers that includes Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Tian Zhuangzhuang and Huang Jianxin. Wu lived in exile in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, but returned to China to direct the award-winning The King of Masks (1996). He remained active as a director and actor, completing his final film Song of the Phoenix (2013) shortly before passing away in March 2014.
Print courtesy of the China Film Archive
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