Sunday, March 19, 2006

grain in ear

This afternoon I saw Grain in Ear, a new film from director Zhang Lu and a feature presentation of the San Francisco Asian American Film Festival. Zhang Lu is from mainland China and is of Sino-Korean decent, an ethnicity he shares with his protagonist, Cui Shunji (actress Liu Lianji). Cui is an impoverished single mother who sells kimchi from a three-wheeled pedal cart. She and her son live in a small 2-room shack with outdoor plumbing, and they have four friendly prostitutes and a chicken as next door neighbors.

The majority of the film is shot with a stationary camera. Characters move in and out of the frames, but intra-scene the camera neither pans nor shifts focus. The shots are exceedingly minimal with just the few, necessary details required to advance the story. Dialog is sparse as well, but this adds to the tragic poetry and power of the story of Cui’s abusive relationships with the men around her.

The stark Grain in Ear has been well received on the film festival circuit winning smaller prizes in Cannes and Pusan and the grand prize at Pesaro. It will be released in Korea this Friday, and hopefully its critical sucess will allow it wider distribution in the US.

The 24th San Francisco Asian American Film Festival began last Thursday and it continues through Sunday the 26th. On the program are 120 films shown at venues in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose.