‘Peacock’ deserved Silver Bear

The inherently Chinese film also has the potential to be appreciated around the world.

Peacock,” a recently released film directed by Chinese mainland director Gu Changwei, is deliciously fresh.

Amid growing criticism among Chinese audiences that famous Chinese director Zhang Yimou is catering to the Western eye, “Peacock” fans a new flame to the Chinese film scene. “Peacock” has drawn more than 30,000,000 in ticket sales so far since capturing the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival. It deserves the attention.

The film tells the story of three siblings growing up in a small city during the late ’70s. They could not be more dissimilar. The most memorable character is the older sister, a ruthless idealist whose dream of becoming a paratrooper was shattered by chance.

Refusing reality, she rides through the hutongs (narrow alleys characteristic of older Chinese cities) with a full-blown, hand-stitched parachute attached to the back of her bicycle.

Her older brother, a semimentally handicapped boy whose 250 pounds have given him the unfortunate nickname of “fat guy,” garners a bout of luck when he marries a crippled girl from the countryside. The youngest brother is a timid and sensitive boy whose attempt to rebel only brings him back to his inescapable life in the small city.

The movie ends with the siblings in the city zoo, successively passing the caged peacock that won’t fan because it was winter. But it did fan after all, with a beauty that only violin strings can capture.

But here’s the mystery: No one knows what the peacock symbolizes. The director refuses to tell, because he apparently respects the audiences’ right to interpretation. At the same time, critics say this movie is too passive. All three siblings never rip through the commonness that veils the small city.

To me, the peacock is an answer to this critique: No matter how passive and inescapable life might seem, if you look long enough, you’ll notice the extraordinary.

The three siblings, worn down by the drone of their ritualistic lives, pass by the peacock, buying into the common sense that peacocks don’t fan in the winter. Even the older sister, who defied tradition in her younger years, becomes numb. The only eyes that catch the peacock in its glorious fan are the camera and the audience.

The nostalgic hutongs, the delightful picture of a family of five crowded around a small table, the concrete ping-pong tables and the white-and-blue dress code are all characteristic of a bygone era of history that is uniquely Chinese.

This film, however, speaks also of the commonality of people cross-culturally. This dual structure of indigenous and universal is especially important in the context of Gu’s famous colleague Zhang’s portrayal of an exotic China coated in the color red.

The era of China as a mystery closed behind doors has long passed. It enters a China that tries desperately to cling to its unique cultural heritage in the face of Hollywood and all it embodies.

Gu said in a press interview, “A Chinese film is a Chinese film. In the end, Chinese people must like Chinese film.” But “Peacock” expresses a larger sentiment of Chinese culture as world culture.

Diana Fu is a University student studying in China. She welcomes comments at [email protected]