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Role reversal

(China Daily Asia Weekly) Updated: 2012-12-11 09:29

It would seem that fifth generation master Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine, the execrable The Promise) has swapped places with arguable sixth generation director Feng Xiaogang (Aftershock). While each has dabbled in both period and contemporary drama, Chen is widely regarded as a master of the historical epic, having only ever made two modern films — Together and the baffling Killing Me Softly. Feng, on the other hand, had rooted the majority of his films in the here and now, as any good sixth generation filmmaker would, taking a breather for The Banquet and, perhaps, Assembly. So when the time comes to recreate one of the bleakest years in China's recent past you'd think the first choice to do it would be Chen. Similarly, if a film were looking to make a piquant comment on the uninformed, web-based character assassination that is so au courant, the logical thinking would be to call upon Feng. Well, sometimes the exception proves the rule. And it would seem the master is the master for a reason.

Role reversal

A furious Ruoxi (Yao Chen) gets Jiaqi (Wang Luodan) to help carry forward an Internet smear campaign in the appropriately titled Caught in the Web. 

In the $35 million Back to 1942 Feng reconstructs the Henan famine that broke out at the same time the Chinese army was battling Imperial Japan on several fronts. When the province's food supply all but vanishes due to floods or droughts or dust or whatever the official excuse was being handed to the people, and what little available is diverted to the army, a great migration west to Shaanxi begins. Believing it a temporary measure, the wealthy Fan Dianyuan (Zhang Guoli) packs up his family and sets out with the rest of his town. Though he's unwilling to admit it, he quickly learns that he's simply another refugee, along with his dedicated right hand, Shuanzhu (Zhang Mo), and a tenant, Huazhi (Xu Fan) and their families. As the rapidly dwindling numbers plod along the dry, cold roads, Chiang Kaishek (Chen Daoming, Hero) wages a war with the few resources he has, despite pleas from provincial governor Li Peiji (Li Xuejian) for famine relief.

Conversely, Chen's wholly modern Caught in the Web's warm, soft-edged images belie its jagged critique. Set within the gleaming, media-saturated Beijing middle class, the story starts with a seemingly throwaway moment on a public bus that steamrolls into a major national talking point — as so many moments like it are wont to do these days. The luminous Ye Lanqiu (Gao Yuanyuan, Beijing Bicycle) drifts into her own little world on her way to work after being diagnosed with a fatal illness. Zoned out and fretting over her health, she refuses to give up her seat to an elderly man. Ambitious web "reporter" Jiaqi (Wang Luodan) captures it all on her phone, and her even more ambitious editor Ruoxi (Yao Chen, who could be Shu Qi's long lost sister) makes it a viral sensation. Before you can say "YouTube" the incident has driven Lanqiu into a protected exile with Ruoxi's photographer boyfriend Yang Shoucheng (Mark Chao, Monga), embroiled her boss Shen Liushu (Wang Xueqi, Bodyguards and Assassins, the upcoming Iron Man 3) in a marital scandal and provided a lifeline for his indentured wife Xiaoyu (Chen Hong, also a producer).

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