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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Italian film about China with English subtitles, 15 April 2012
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This review is from: Chung Kuo China - (Mr Bongo Films) (1972) [DVD] (DVD)
Michelangelo Antonioni's 1972 documentary Chung Kuo China brings us on an exotic adventure deep into the country everyone knows of, but truly little about it. Antonioni acknowledges he doesn't have some profound insight into China that he will share with us, but as we go along with him, we feel like we are on a personal tour in this ancient land. We see famous landmarks like the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square, getting an appreciation to their significance. We get a tour of cities like Beijing and Shanghai, learning about their past and present. But regardless of where we go on our travels with Antonioni throughout China, we see countless people going about their regular life.

It is actually pretty amazing that so much of this film just shows the regular events one sees in from the street and the many expressions of the people who happen to be there at the time. So this documentary manages to show the mundane in an interesting way. The narration helps us understand what is occurring and the historical importance of what we are viewing. I have to add that there were actually escorts accompanying Antonioni and his crew when they made this movie. The escorts always remain off camera, but told them where they can and cannot film (and some of what they were told not to film they did anyway). If anything, we also get a good taste of communism and the culture that goes with it. China still embraces its past and we get to see a few things that might only occur there and no where else on earth (like acupuncture using huge needles for pain control during birth or groups of people moving their body like they are practicing martial arts out in the public).

I have to admit I like Antonioni's style, so it isn't a surprise for me that I found this film to be so enjoyable. Chung Kuo is a documentary that provides us with a chance to draw our own conclusions about what we see. The film is broken up into three parts providing us a good point to stop in case taking it all in in one sitting is too much. By the end of this nearly four-hour film, although we may not feel like an expert, we will have a much richer appreciation and knowledge of the noble land called China.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "You can depict a tiger's skin, but not his bones. You can depict people's faces, but not their hearts.", 10 Nov. 2012
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technoguy "jack" (Rugby) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Chung Kuo China - (Mr Bongo Films) (1972) [DVD] (DVD)
Antonioni has a documentary vision underlying his classic films,this acts like a corrective to any kind of indulgence.Invited to China by MaoZe Dung for 8 weeks to document the effects of the Cultural Revolution on a presumption of shared values under constant chaperone,so as not to stray from the prearranged puppet-shows, acrobats,propaganda songs and indoctrinated stories,there are moments he steals from his minders,out of the sides of their vision,sights of the people of China going about their daily routine out of the various cities and provinces.He intended solely to "present a large collection of faces,gestures,customs."This is a time capsule of an unknown China in the early 70s released into the West by a great master of film.Chung Kuo Cina was condemned by the Chinese as anti-Chinese imperialistic slander for not showing off the great achievements of the Cultural Revolution leading to a 32 year ban.This 208 minute version consists of 3 parts.The first part, taken around Beijing,includes a cotton factory, older sections of the city, and a clinic where a caesarean operation is performed, using acupuncture. The Great Wall of China is spectacular,although there are broken sections.

In documenting what he refers to as "mundane daily activity",Antonioni films the people as he finds them, with much attention paid to lingering shots of individual faces,ignoring one town governor's hasty attempts to force elderly residents out of the camera's sightlines,frantically insisting that everything be captured "properly".For all the sequences of immaculately behaved children reciting songs about the wonders of collectivism, it was a single shot of them running into the playground with which the censors took umbrage, at odds with the studious picture of youth they wished to present.He filmed structures like bridges more poetically.By playing around with imagery the Chinese saw him as destroying the propaganda of stability . Each section of Chung Kuo China takes in a different city or province on the crew's journey, beginning in Tiananmen Square (where we first hear the film's title theme "We Love Tiananmen Square") and ending in Shanghai. Antonioni is quick to admit that his portrait of China barely scratches the surface, quoting an old Chinese saying that "You can depict a Tiger's skin, but not its heart", but he's clearly seduced by the country's natural beauty, especially as the control exerted by his chaperones appears to loosen the further from Beijing they travel.People do Tai Chi exercises in squares.

Some of the best footage comes when travelling through the Henan Province, especially when the crew have to jump from a moving vehicle to capture the rare instance of a private market in full swing, despite their guides' futile attempts to stop them. The network of canals that make up Suzhou City provide some of the most beautiful imagery in the film, whilst a stop at China's largest factory recalls the industrial landscapes of Il Deserto Rosso (1964), but it's a ghost town of straw huts in the centre of Shanghai,left to commemorate the Sino-Japanese war,that prove the most eerily evocative. "For one fourth of the earth's population, we're so unfamiliar that it fills us with awe", the narration says,and one gets the impression that Antonioni is aware of the cultural importance of such privileged access to what would remain a closed world for years to come, "China has opened its doors, but still remains a distant and largely unknown world".With the restless curiosity of Marco Polo Antonioni tenderly takes in the faces of this alien world in tea houses and restaurants,street scenes where bicycles tinkle and on boats,healso illegally captures a war-ship briefly. This important pre-Capitalist China is an important social document of a lost era.There are some scratches to the film and the 3 parts are all compressed on one disc.You feel this revolution has met its match in a director who respects the collectivist vision in reducing malnutrition.No extras. In colour.
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Chung Kuo China - (Mr Bongo Films) (1972) [DVD]
Chung Kuo China - (Mr Bongo Films) (1972) [DVD] by Michelangelo Antonioni (DVD - 2012)
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