Sunday, December 14, 2008

[China Film Festival] Li Shuangliang (愚公移山)

Based on the synopsis, I had absolutely no idea what the movie would be about, but it's based on an historical incident which ties in with an environmental theme, and following the previous movies, it's links with the Olympics comes in the form of a reference to the Paralympics instead, where an injured and paralyzed worker was encouraged to shoot for greater heights, that he should not let his disability hinder him from dreaming big and striving to be faster and stronger.

Li Shuangliang is the title for the main protagonist, which is played by two actors, Wang Qingxiang as the older man, and Guo Xiaodong as the man in his youth. It's the story of a successful man who has made a name for himself when he sees a problem to be solved, and goes about devoting his time and effort to ensure that it is done, along the way creating jobs for others and raising everyone's standard of living through the enormous returns from sheer hard work. Not only in monetary terms of course, but indirectly addressing health concerns, and to remove an eyesore in their community.

Working for the last 40 years at a steel mill, Li retires but instead of resting on his laurels, he explores a solution to remove a mountain high slag waste dump, which spans approximately 5 Tiananmen Squares and weighs thousand of tons, and that is to engage farmers as labourers to chip away at the slag bit by bit, separating iron for sale, and selling the waste product as well. It's supposed to be one massive 7 year project by the sheer man hours for it to be completed, and this movie spanned 20 years charting this post-retirement career of his which came by accident, and grew beyond everyone's wildest imagination into a self-sustaining corporation in itself.

Huo Jianqi, who directed A Time To Love in 2005 starring Zhao Wei and Lu Yi, had this pass off in almost documentary-like terms, since after all it's recounting the true life story of this man who has some really relevant people management skills and values to impart. For the most parts it played out like Management 101, with him tackling various work related problems like unscrupulous supervisors, workplace injuries and worker compensation and renumeration. But should these topics not appeal to you, then this is also a story about a successful man from extremely humble beginnings, his love life and family, peering into the man behind that Corporate CEO image that others see him as, and looks at his personal values, morals and decency as well. I think that episode about how he handled a multi-million dollar payout, is a shining example of the dilemma that one faces, in wanting to do the right thing.

The account of his earlier life story might have been a little bit rushed, especially that of his romantic relationship with his wife which occupies the only a bit of the last act and told in flashbacks, but it nevertheless provided quite a well-rounded narrative encompassing many facets of this man's life. The ending too might seem a little abrupt to have ended with a cutting to the present day site, which is now a beautiful garden, but I guess for its Management 101 episodes, this is quite compelling a movie to watch.

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