What is a superstar? Judge Daryl Loomis, that's what.
What happens when 1.4 billion Chinese discover punk?
As the 2008 Olympic Games dawned over Beijing, China came onto the world stage to show what they had to offer to the world. While their presentation was undoubtedly spectacular, many of the citizens didn't feel that the government's show actually represented the lives they lead. Understandable, I suppose, since much of the country lives in poverty and that's not exactly the face they would want to present. Still, that face exists and there are many who feel the dissatisfaction and, just like in the States, where it all began: a burgeoning punk music scene with young bands expressing their anger through music.
Director Shaun Jefford (The Edge of the World) travelled to Beijing to document this scene, but found much more than he expected. He arrived at D-22, one of the few clubs in the city dedicated to fostering China's punk acts. It was run by American Michael Pettis (it closed earlier this year with the idea of opening a new place that is more suited to the growing scene), who saw a market for punk and fostered the bands that we see in the film. Sort of like a Beijing CBGB's, D-22's crowd was loud, proud, and loved the bands on stage. The spirit represented is just like the punk shows I grew up attending, and I can't help but love the footage in this film.
Of the bands that make up the scene, those featured represent them well. Misandao, with the hard-drinking, intelligent, and Lemmy-influenced frontman Leijin; Hedgehog, with their tiny dynamo drummer Atom; and Demerit, with appropriately named singer, Spike; all of them exhibit exactly the kind of ideal you want from a punk band: the determination to express themselves and their dissatisfaction with the world they've been born into, with enough anger to make it stick.
It would be too easy to just say that Beijing Punk is all about the music. While that's the focus of the film, Jefford brings out a relatively unseen side of Chinese society. As the jobless band members point out, Chinese culture forces people to work insane hours every day, leaving no time for anything individuals might want to do for themselves. Some might call that an admirable work ethic, but to these people, it is a method to keep the populace in submission. Therefore, they don't work, and they live most meagerly, with much of their money going to drug and drink. Witness as Leijin, an expert in these subjects, recommends what cough syrups to drink and what liquor to consume, even gifting the director and his cameraman their own personal bottles of codeine syrup. Some may shudder at the shiftlessness of it all, but so what? They're dedicated, and that's what it takes for a movement to get going.
Beijing Punk is an excellent documentary. A well-made piece with excellent music throughout, it informs about the scene, the lifestyle, and the society. More important, though, it's passionate about all of these subjects—and what is punk rock if not passion?
Beijing Punk arrives on DVD from Seminal Films in a standard bare-bones edition. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is a little rough, but the film was shot on cheap, portable cameras that allowed the filmmakers to work quickly without drawing much scrutiny. It gets the point across, though, and works just fine for what it is. The stereo sound represents the bands pretty well. Dialog is clear and it represents the music very well, though the fidelity is more on the punk rock level than, say, what one would want from a Rush concert. There are no extras on the disc.
Beijing Punk delivers exactly what you want from a documentary about punk music. There's no glory here, only music and life. It's a fine film full of fine music by bands I'd never heard of; I can't wait to learn and discover more about this scene. Highly recommended for punk fans and those who want to learn about a side of China we rarely get to see.
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Studio: Seminal Films
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