Baober in Love
Baober In Love [Lian Ai Zhong De Bao Bei] is a lost relic that could be regarded as the kick-start of the current Chinese cinematic revolution. A film that truly deviated from the norm, leaving heavy-handed arthouse aesthetic lovers and poverty porn enthusiasts in the dark, instead opting to conjure a modern-day fairy tale. The result is a slightly uneven yet magnificent film, whose negatives are greatly outweighed by the sheer joy and pleasure it emits.
Shaohong Li's Baober In Love can be considered the spiritual forefather of films like Lee's Adventure, Honey PuPu and pk.com.cn. The film dares to embrace the urban and technical revolution China underwent during the last ten years, translating that sentiment in a more genre-based approach while edging away from activist and moralist film making and betting on entertainment. It's a lot lighter than earlier Chinese films, without being particularly feel-good or a downright comedy.
The film follows the adventures of Baober, a young and naive Chinese girl, who stumbles upon a trashed VHS tape. She reconstructs the tape and discovers a confession of Liu on the tape. Liu is a young man who's bored with his life and his current relationship. Baober falls immediately for the charms of Liu, and she is determined to find him, even when all she has to go on is a VHS.
Seeking out Liu ends up being the easy part of her mission though. Once she meets up with Liu she pulls him into her dreamworld, tearing him away from his former girlfriend and claiming him all for herself. The both of them shack up in an abandoned warehouse, but living together proves more difficult than they had first imagined. It turns out that Baober has some well-hidden secrets that put some serious strain on their relationship. By that time Liu is so into Baober that he can't imagine losing her, and so he fights to keep the relationship going.
Visually Baober In Love is a dream. Li pulls out all the stops to make this film look as nice as possible. Weird camera angles, experimental editing techniques, magnificent camera work and some slight mixed media experiments are all aided by lush sets and superb use of color and lighting. The film's visual language is so rich that it almost feels like a first-timer's film, though that's hardly the case. Even though Baober In Love is almost 10 years old already, it's still one of the prettiest Chinese films to date.
The soundtrack is pretty awesome too. An almost entirely electronic/dance-driven soundtrack which further fuels the modern feel of the film. The soundtrack is by no means too extreme or inaccessible, but the effect is still very refreshing. There are some very smart and atmospheric tracks that I wouldn't even mind owning on a CD. Again, I know of no Chinese film that preceded Baober on this, hell, even contemporary Western films are still struggling with electronic music.
Jue Huang is pretty decent as Liu, but it's Xun Zhou who carries the film with a very strong performance as Baober. While Zhou's choice in films has been on the safe side these past couple of years, this is definitely one of those films that helped to sculpt her career. It's an edgy role that allows her to display her full range of talent. The supporting actors are decent too, but all things considered this is really a one-(wo)man show.
While the film starts off as a very sweet and endearing story, even bearing a small resemblance to Jeunet's Amélie, there is definitely a darker side to Baober In Love. This side takes over the film during the second part and while Li struggles a little during the transition between the two opposed parts it gives Baober In Love an interesting spin that helps it from turning too mellow and mushy. In the end the contrast between the two parts made it a better film, only the transition is a little rough.
Fans of modern cinema should find themselves right at home with this film. It's a bit uneven during the middle part when Li tries to connect both sides of the story, but superb acting, a stellar soundtrack and eye-popping cinematography more than make up for that. Brace yourself for a sweet romance with a nasty sting, and you'll be hard-pressed to think bad of this little gem that would turn out to be the start of a new Chinese cinematic movement. Actually getting a chance to see Baober In Love with English subtitles will be the real challenge though as the film sadly lacks an English-friendly home release.