Contributor; Derby, England

Another one for the ScreenAnarchy archives; back in 2005 Fifth Generation Chinese director Huang Jiangxin directed [i]Gimme Kudos[/i], his first film in four years, a snappy little deconstruction of the role of 'face' in mainland society and a blackly funny comedy of manners showing what can happen when one man wants to be recognised, no matter what the cost. Why is it worth taking a look at four more years on? Review after the break.

The concept of 'face' is such a pervasive stereotype even the best intentions don't necessarily stop an avid fan of Asian popular culture from misusing it. It's one of the West's most persistent beliefs about the other, passed on in countless 'oh, China' stories, the general idea these people just don't think like we do.

Mainland director Huang Jianxin has spent most of his career quietly demystifying countless aspects of everyday life for ordinary Chinese. Although technically Huang can count Zhang Yimou ([i]Hero[/i], [i]House of Flying Daggers[/i]), Chen Kaige ([i]The Promise[/i]) or Tian Zhuangzhuang ([i]The Go Master[/i]) among his peers, he studied later than the more famous members of the [url=]Fifth Generation[/url] and so far his own films have focused exclusively on contemporary drama as opposed to grandiose arthouse projects or lavish period pieces. Though his films lack the glamour and exoticism of festival darlings such as Jia Zhangke ([i]Platform[/i], [i]The World[/i]) or Liu Ye ([i]Summer Palace[/i]) Huang has long had a reputation as one of China's premier satirists, biting hard enough the viewer can't miss his intentions, but subtly enough he always gets away with it.

With [i]Gimme Kudos[/i] (2005) Huang deals almost entirely with face. The film starts simply enough; Gu Guoge (Wang Zhiwen, [url=][i]A Battle of Wits[/i][/url], [i]Love Battlefield[/i]) is a journalist on an evening paper in an unnamed Chinese city, and one day a man named Yan Hongqi (Fan Wei, [url=][i]City of Life and Death[/i][/url], [url=][i]Set Off[/i][/url]) walks into his office and – as per the title – demands kudos. Yan is a short, tubby, unassuming construction worker from the city limits who claims he stepped in the night before to save a young female student from a rapist, and now wants recognition for his good deed. Gu insists on verifying this before he prints anything about it, but he can't find any evidence to show Yan's telling the truth. There's no sign the rape ever happened, the local police insist their precinct is crime-free and when Gu tracks down Ouyang Hua (the student named by Yan) she insists she's never met the man, much less been assaulted.

Yet Yan keeps coming back, day after day, demanding to know why the paper doesn't believe him. Curious what drives the man to return, Gu decides to investigate the case, uncovering a story of filial devotion that stretches back four decades and not only takes over Gu's life but drags in many of those close to him.

The script is almost a textbook example of how to write a story that keeps on growing. Beautifully structured and paced, the narrative starts off deceptively simple, then spreads in all directions, nearly every new character just as expertly sketched out as the last, from Gu's ladies' man colleague to his editor-in-chief to his wife. Miao Pu ([url=][i]Cherries[/i][/url], [i]The Beast Stalker[/i]) is excellent in this particular supporting role, a beat cop who keeps a punch-bag with her husband's face on it, caught up in the story after she becomes suspicious her husband seems to be spending entirely too much time with this attractive young student.

But the film belongs unquestionably to the two leads. Fan Wei gets to use more of his comic talent here, yet he also excels at fleshing out Yan Hongqi beyond the confines of the script. Fan plays Yan as sullen, withdrawn, softly-spoken, even a little simple, yet still very much a human being and his interplay with Wang Zhiwen's Gu Guoge is largely an absolute joy to watch, slipping effortlessly from sharp to poignant to uproariously funny, frequently within a single scene. Wang Zhiwen is far drier in contrast, much more cynical, yet both men still get to reflect on the absurdities of everyday life and the things they sometimes drive people to do. The reveal, such as it is, might seem run-of-the-mill on paper but the script and performances give it real weight.

Sadly, the film fumbles the ending somewhat; though the reveal is certainly effective, it's over with all too quickly. The script attempts to deal with the aftermath – what the reveal implies about Chinese society (or society in general) and what this means for the main characters – but it seems almost perfunctory next to how carefully it handles the buildup. One potentially chilling line feels as if the filmmakers couldn't decide whether to treat it as horrific or a blackly comic throwaway gag, and the answer to whether the final coda is supposed to be a dream or reality is left far too ambiguous. Technically [i]Gimme Kudos[/i] is also fairly unremarkable. Huang has never been known as an auteur, and both camerawork and editing are slick enough (partly due to Feng Xiaogang ([url=][i]If You are the One[/i][/url], [url=][i]Assembly[/i][/url]) coming on board as a producer) but some sequences can leave the viewer wishing there was more happening on screen.

Nonetheless, as far as mainland drama goes, this is top-tier work from a director who remains vastly under-rated outside of his domestic market and comes hugely recommended for anyone searching for intelligent character drama. Witty, sharply observed, thought-provoking and hugely entertaining it shows a talented cast on top form and tells a wonderfully plotted story inspired by a fairly simple, universal truth. Call it 'face', call it whatever, we all desperately want to be recognised, but that need has both an up and a downside, and we ignore either of these at our peril.

Gimme Kudos

  • Jianxin Huang
  • Xin Huang
  • Zhenyun Liu (planning)
  • Fan Yi
  • Hao Chen
  • Yong Dong
  • Wei Fan
  • Han-Lin Gong
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Jianxin HuangXin HuangZhenyun LiuFan YiHao ChenYong DongWei FanHan-Lin GongComedy

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You can order the Hong Kong English-subtitled DVD of [i]Gimme Kudos[/i] from YesAsia [url=]here.[/url]

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