Film/video, Reviews, Travel

Movie review: Man Zou

Saturday night (8/22) I watched Man Zou at McCaw Hall, and was greatly impressed. Sitting in the SIFF cinema with an almost sold out crowd, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Upstairs, in McCaw Hall, Wagner’s opera- “The Ring” was in session, and one could hear the opera singers belting out their tunes in what is apparently the longest opera ever made. The crowd upstairs was most assuredly different, the feel of the crowd being somewhat more conservative. The men went upstairs in black suits and ties, the women dressed as for a funeral. Maybe “The Ring” is a sad opera?

Anyhow, back to Man Zou. We went for a few reasons. Brendt, the founding director of the BFF in NY called me and let me know that a film maker that had a film in the BFF a few years earlier was to have a premiere of his latest film, and it would be a good place to meet people and talk about the BFF. I was also curious at to what the SIFF Cinema looks like, and how other people’s screenings are received in Seattl

This was taken from the Man Zou site:

Man Zou: Beijing to Shanghai is the story of four Americans who, immediately following the Olympics, travel by bicycle between China’s two largest cities to learn more about the Chinese people, their culture and the rapidly changing environment in which they live.

Man Zou is a common phrase in Mandarin that translates literally to “Walk Slow.” Used as a farewell, it is a way of reminding another, ‘Be careful and mindful on your journey, and take the time to see things along the way. Walk slowly and you won’t fall.’ This philosophy guided our journey across China as we traveled slowly by bicycle, without an accompanying support vehicle, and took the time to listen to and learn from those we encountered.

The movie was shot very well, had a light hearted feel, and had a score that added a seriously professional feel. Director Jason Reid is from Seattle, and the others that took part in the film, are Seattle based, so most, if not all that had a part in it were present (excepting Doven, their guide, who seemed very friendly and was indispensable during their entire trip) It seems that any documentary that is done about China can too easily shine poorly on the country as a whole. Sure, the people may be nice, but they are shadowed by a government that keeps their people down and rules with an iron fist.

Whether that is the case or not, the film followed these 5 men as they traveled on bicycle through some of the most breathtaking landscapes on earth. In the US, I feel like the bicycle is a vehicle for environmental and political change. For the most part in China, this isn’t the case. You ride a bicycle because it makes sense. They are cheap, reliable, and honestly, they take up less space. People didn’t see what they did as a radical form of saying “Fuck you” to the oil companies, it was more of a

“That looks like a pretty strange way to have fun. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take a bus?”

It was though the film was shot through innocent eyes, by people that had not heard anything that had taken place in China prior to their arrival. I liked this. It blew my assumptions of China out of the water, and opened my eyes to the beauty that has been shrouded by the red curtain and cloud of smog. They didn’t get into any political discussions on the road. It was however impossible to ignore the gross levels of pollution contaminating the industrial areas. To breath in air that you can see can not be avoided, especially, if you are taxing your body in the first place. To travel by bike you can not hide from the environment as you can in an air conditioned car. You are the environment. It hurt a little to see the damage that is done in an effort to keep goods cheap for the richer nations, the US included.

The crowd to watch Man Zou was not necessarily what I was expecting. There were 10 bicycles parked out front, none of which were mine, but I was expecting more of a cycling crowd. I didn’t recognize anyone at the screening. Out of 300+ people there, I didn’t know one. It made me feel a little odd; a cycling movie that I didn’t know was screening until someone from NYC emailed me about it. To show up, and not recognize anyone, I wasn’t bummed, but excited. I love meeting new people, and seeing the overlap of folks that enjoy good independent film, as well as bikes. In working with the BFF this year, these are the people that I want to reach out to.

A quick recap- if you get the opportunity, go see Man Zou. Whether you like China, travel, independent film, bikes, or documentaries… it’s good.

And if you like basketball, or the Oklahoma Supersonics, then you can find out a little about their history as Jason Reid releases his next movie this October:

Sonicsgate Trailer from sonicsgate on Vimeo.

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