Mai Tian (Wheat, 2009, China)

Wheat is a beautifully shot movie Mai Tian (Wheat Field) is. Once it’s out on DVD I will have to get a copy so I could at least watch it on regular T screen. I’ve seen it on a tiny display on an airplane and I doubt that it will show up in the movie theaters of the small town I live in California. Thus my only chance to see the golden fields, the elaborate and ragged costumes, the simple houses, the plain but beautiful tools, the facial expressions in somewhat enjoyable details is to see it on my TV, when I can.

The film is not just visually pleasing, but also provides food for thoughts too. For example the movie is divided into five section, each named after an element. But they are not the ones I am used to (air, fire, earth and water). Instead we have these in this order: gold, wood, water, fire, and earth. Each section of the movie covers one day and titled as Day of [insert element name here]. In order to discover the connection between the titles and the sections they designate I will have to rewatch it. But I got the distinct feeling that each day has a lot to do with the innate nature of the corresponding element. I really like and admire complex works that follow multiple types of structure, particularly if some of these carry ancient wisdom or teaching. I hope to discover this movie’s teaching about the elements later.

It also taught me about the difficulty of diplomacy and loyalty. The hero, a distinguished warrior of an army finds himself in a village behind enemy lines in 260 BCE. Only the women are at home, the men are at war. But they could overpower him, so he decided to deceive them by saying he was a warrior from their side. He makes up an elaborate story about how the side of the women’s husbands won the war to be more convincing. The women like what they hear and in return take care of him, pamper and adore him. When a brutal warlord of his own side shows up he faces a decision whether to protect the women who cared for him or support his own army’s representative. To complicate matters he went AWOL in order to get hoe to help with the wheat harvest and the harvest is upon these women too. Thus his loyalty is truly tested.

Not just his own. Ever since he deserted the army a simpleton followed him. He is the opposite of our strong warrior in the sense that he doesn’t have the guts and the wits to fight. He appears to be genuinely crazy, but in many scenes mirrors the hero’s logical actions and words and turns them upside down. Thus he provides a crooked mirror for the viewer, questioning the meaning and consequences of honor and power. The consequences seem to be the same for both of the, so why bother with the fancy actions and ideologies, one may ask.

I also loved that the movie has strong and wise women in it. Both amongst the aristocracy and among the peasants. They teach a whole set of other lessons of Confucian patience, but also the value of honor, work and resistance. It didn’t hurt that the main heroine was portrayed by a beautiful actress: Bingbing Fan.

The information on the movie’s official site is only in Mandarin although the buttons are bilingual and show the labels in English too. Thus you can get to the trailer of the photogallery. Check it out, it has some incredible shots. I just have to reiterate that visually it is the most amazing picture I have seen for a while.

Official site

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