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Befriending the Black Dog of fate

By Xu Fan | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-20 06:39
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Black Dog, which won Un Certain Regard's top award at this year's Cannes Film Festival, centers on the special bond between Erlang, a man released from a 10-year sentence on parole, played by actor Eddie Peng, and the titular canine. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Redemptory tale is gritty slice of life filmed in postindustrial Northwest, Xu Fan reports.

As A-list actor Eddie Peng sauntered through the streets of Cannes with the dog he adopted following the global premiere of his latest film Black Dog at the 77th Cannes Film Festival, attendees were so captivated by the four-legged celebrity, they barely spared a glance for the human star.

"People came up to me and crouched down, asking if they could pet it," Peng tells China Daily shortly before a promotional event in Beijing on June 12, three days ahead of the movie's Chinese mainland release.

As one of the most acclaimed Chinese-language films at the prestigious international festival, Black Dog clinched the top prize in Un Certain Regard, a category that celebrates unique style and unconventional narratives.

Xiaoxin, the canine star playing the enigmatic black dog in the film, basked in its own glory after winning the Palm Dog Award, an annual accolade given by the festival's international film critics to the best canine or group of canine performers.

The film is a step out of the comfort zone for director Guan Hu, who is known for blockbusters like the acclaimed Mr Six. Black Dog also pays homage to his late father.

Emerging as a prominent figure among China's "sixth-generation directors", Guan's first film Dirt came out in 1994. Since then, the 55-year-old filmmaker has steadily ascended into the echelons of top-tier directors through a string of successful TV dramas and films, including the war epic The Eight Hundred, the highest-grossing blockbuster of 2020.

Viewed by some critics as one of Guan's most personal and experimental films, Black Dog is set in a dilapidated town in northwestern China.

It follows Peng's character, a former local celebrity named Lang Yonghui, who once had a band and excelled at motorcycle stunts, on his return to hometown on parole after completing a 10-year prison term. Compelled to earn a living, Lang, who is also known as Erlang, reluctantly takes a job on a team assigned to round up stray dogs. This effort is part of the town's initiative to clean up its streets and attract investors for new factory developments.

In a twist of fate, the isolated Erlang, who rarely speaks following his stint in prison, bonds with one of the strays, a black dog initially seen as a major problem by the dogcatchers, who suspect it of having rabies.

Through a series of harsh experiences, from evading the angry relatives of a person whose death has been blamed on Erlang, to surviving a cold night huddling together to keep warm after a car accident, the dog gradually becomes a companion as Erlang embarks on a journey that ultimately leads to him finding redemption through his connection with the stray.

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