Fox Lorber // 1996 // 95 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dean Roddey (Retired) // May 10th, 2000
Chilling artistic expression in China's underground.
Frozen is a small, independent (and from the various things I read, somewhat guerilla) film, about the lives of a small group of avante-garde performance artists in China in the mid 1990s. Being a political performance artist is pretty tough anywhere, but in China it definitely hasn't traditionally been big with the powers that be. One of the artists, Qi Lei, has become disillusioned and depressed, and decides to make the ultimate statement.
Qi Lei's group dabbles in various types of expression. But they all occasionally stage elaborate public performance pieces, mostly making very oblique political statements, enough to speak to the insiders but not enough to cause serious trouble. They still do get hassled by the state periodically, which probably just assumes that anything it can't understand isn't in its best interests.
Qi Lei in particular has become depressed, both because of the suppression of their art and ability to self express, and also seemingly as just an extension of the blues that many artists bring on themselves as a roundabout means of inspiration. He seems to have gotten so much in the habit that he can't pull out of it anymore.
So he decides to make one last grand statement. At first, it's still just a performance piece, but it grows to be more. The piece will cover a year, and will have one performance per season. Each piece will be symbolic of his death. In the autumn, he does the "Earth Burial," that winter the "Water Burial," in the spring the "Fire Burial," and finally in the summer the "Ice Burial."
As the year progresses, and his depression deepens, he becomes more convinced that the Ice Burial will be real, that he will freeze himself to death to protest the suppression of artistic expression. He discusses this with his friends and family, and finally convinces them that this is the direction he wants to take. Much of the film revolves around how the people around him come to accept his decision.
The film ends, almost, with his death in the Ice Burial. I say almost, because there is more to the story after his death. I won't ruin it for you, because it's an important part of the plot. And the film at first somewhat leaves open to interpretation the reality of this trailing part of the film.
Being a very 'artsy' independent piece, Frozen has the usual long, contemplative moments in which little is said. Sparseness seems to be a standard differentiator of 'art' film and commercial film I guess, as it is in other media. The feelings are often expression via the body language and expressions of the people there, or the slow meandering of the camera and the musical score. The overall ambience is of the 'music from the hearts of space' genre, often with a quiet, spoken over narration.
Frozen though is not without humor, so I don't want to present it as any kind of oppressively high art type of piece. In particular, when a couple of friends lure Qi Lei to a local hospital to have him evaluated, there is a funny scene when his wild looking friend is mistaken for the patient and dragged before a wooden faced psychiatrist. The harder he tries to convince them that his isn't the one with the problem, the more and more psycho he seems. Pretty soon, he realizes that he is basically bouncing off the walls and that they think he is a complete nut case.
The video is, unfortunately, in the 4:3 (1.33:1) aspect ratio, which pretty much takes this one off of the 'to buy' list for me. Its not that I'm a video snob, I just won't watch much 4:3 material for fear of uneven wear on my projector CRTs. I usually just watch them stretched to fill the screen. As you might expect for a low budget film, the quality of the material is a little uneven and definitely not of reference quality. That's not what this type of film is really about of course, but we have to comment on these things.
The audio quality is somewhat low as well, though that's of little consequence unless you speak Mandarin, since you'll be reading the subtitles otherwise. It's presented in Dolby 2.0 format, which is sufficient for this type of film.
As is usual for the types of films I tend to review, there aren't really any extras to speak of. Just a simple textual filmography section. Oh well, what can ya do? It would have probably cost more to make any extras material than it did to make the film.
Overall, this is an interesting film. It's just hampered by low technical points, in terms of its being evaluated as a DVD. If you like quirky, moody independent films (and I generally do), then I would recommend it as a rental. But it's not good enough a DVD to recommend a purchase, unless you are a real fan of this genre. Its great to watch when you are in one of those sleepy, tingly moods because of the spacey soundtrack.
Acquitted for content, but cited for lack of technical quality. The numbers are also dragged down due to lack of extras.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Fox Lorber
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Mandarin)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Not Rated