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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Quitting (2001)

"Is your life interesting? Are you happy?"
- Jia Hongsheng

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: April 22, 2003

Stars: Jia Hongsheng, Jia Fengsen, Chai Xiurong
Director: Zhang Yang

MPAA Rating: R for drug content
Run Time: 01h:51m:56s
Release Date: March 04, 2003
UPC: 043396079076
Genre: foreign


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- CCB+ D

DVD Review

It's easy to be yourself, but it's hard to be yourself on purpose. The artificiality that comes from acting is very much the subject of Quitting, a strange, ambitious but rather hollow recent film from China, which tells the story of Jia Hongsheng, a modestly successful Chinese film actor whose life was derailed by a brutal heroin addiction. Hongsheng is the only trained actor in the film—he plays himself, and his story is told with the actual participants. Those are his parents playing his parents, his sister playing his sister, his doctors playing themselves, and so forth. It's a strange reconstruction of reality, and makes for some wooden performances by these non-professionals. It would be easier to go along for the ride if the story was told with a greater amount of craft, but unfortunately that isn't the case.

"But that really happened." So what? People going to the grocery store and riding the train really happens, but not with motion picture cameras running; and any discriminating viewer knows that the tension and drama of the current craze for reality television is manufactured in the editing room more than on the set. (If you watched any of the live Big Brother feeds on the web, you know what I'm talking about.)

There's an even bigger problem with Quitting, which is that its hero comes off as a spoiled, indulged little monster. (I do feel sort of bad criticizing someone's life in this way, and don't mean to make light of a heroin addiction; but hey, you make yourself the star of a major motion picture, and you ask for it.) Hongsheng seems to be an actor of no great talent or renown, and he treats everyone around him horribly. It's kind of hard to believe that he's in his mid- to late twenties here, because his behavior is much more consistent with someone ten years younger: moodily storming out of the house, hitting up Dad for beer money, just generally being a surly adolescent. We expect that from someone who's in high school; for someone who's a decade past that, you may want to shake him and shout, "Learn a trade, son."

Adding to the sense of Hongsheng's arrested adolescence is his musical taste—he's got a thing for The Beatles, and even fantasizes about being John Lennon's lost illegitimate Chinese son. There's something both weirdly retro and touching in Hongsheng, on his birthday, wanting to drink beer with his father and have the old man listen to Beatles albums; there's a time warp element to this, as the story is set in the early 1990s, when you'd anticipate that the rock star of choice would be Kurt Cobain, say, or Eddie Vedder. There's also a big translation problem—Hongsheng loves The Beatles, but apparently whoever handled the English subtitles doesn't, or never heard of them. Hongsheng takes Let It Be as his personal anthem, and loves to recite the song's lyrics; but we get a bizarre, Babelfishy English-to-Chinese-to-English rendering of Lennon and McCartney. The song's title is rendered as Take It Naturally, for instance—here's the original opening verse:

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.


And here's the rendering we get, which starts all right, but then goes off the rails:

When I find myself in times of trouble.
She stands next to me.
Telling me which way to go.
Take it naturally.


You'd think that the Lennon posters plastered all over Hongsheng's bedroom walls would be a tipoff to the translator, but no such luck. Hongsheng is also a guy who looks at Taxi Driver as a training film, which, aside from being deeply misguided, is also weirdly out of time. Surely by 1993 bootleg copies of Reservoir Dogs, at least, had made it to China—Hongsheng could use a little more Mr. Black, and a lot less Travis Bickle.

Periodically the director, Zhang Yang, dollies back to show us that it's all on a set, or has an on-camera interview with someone in Hongsheng's life; but that Brechtian device can't mask the fact that he doesn't have much to work with. Hongsheng ends up in a mental hospital, in scenes that seem like tired rehashes of stuff from The Lost Weekend and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. It's a modestly intellectually engaging movie, but its lack of emotional involvement in its characters' inner lives renders it close to inert.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Color levels are nice, but there seems to be a whole lot of debris present, detracting from the overall visual quality. It seems as if little or nothing was done with a battered release print when transferring the film to DVD, which is unfortunate.

Image Transfer Grade: C

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital
5.1
Mandarinno


Audio Transfer Review: Good use is made of the 5.1 capability, especially in the hospital scenes, and in general, the audio quality is much higher and cleaner than the video.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Beijing Bicycle, Shower
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: An original trailer, along with trailers for two other Chinese films, are the only extras.

Extras Grade: D

 

Final Comments

Quitting has some stylistic ambition, but little else to recommend it. It's a rough road when your protagonist is unsympathetic and is surrounded, on purpose, by non-actors, and it's a challenge that the movie doesn't really meet.

 


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