Year of the Horse

Real life in Zhang Yangs Quitting

Quitting, from Beijing director Zhang Yang (Shower), is about parents and children seeking to rebuild their relationships. The son here is Chinese movie star Jia Hongsheng, who plays himself. Known to his fans as a "thug idol," Jia played gangsters and cops in early-'90s B movies before discovering heroin, dropping out of sight, abandoning his friends and family, and finally ending up in a state mental hospital. Zhang, who directed Jia in a 1992 stage version of Kiss of the Spider Woman—during which his art director turned his leading man on to drugs—later spent three years interviewing the actor and his family with a view to turning their story into a film. Jia's parents, who ran a state-sponsored theater group in northeast China, play themselves, as do his sister and everyone else in the cast, including the mental patients.

The result is not, says Zhang, a documentary, but a shaping of real-life experiences into a representative story of young people in the rapidly changing new China, where Walkmans and Big Macs jostle for space in a world still overseen by the gerontocracy that gave China the Cultural Revolution. Certainly Zhang has given his true story the trappings of fiction—narrative fluidity and coherence, flashbacks, etc.—but he's also made the film seem heavily conscious of its own artifice, with talking-head interviews, characters addressing the camera, and tracking shots that occasionally pull backward to show that everything we're watching is taking place on a sound stage.

Whether Quitting will prove absorbing to American audiences is debatable: After all, it's not like we don't have enough rehab stories of our own, and Jia often comes across as a sullen, unreachable brat. But if any local subtleties were lost in the movie's transit to America, there are compensations aplenty in the acting, particularly between Jia Hongsheng and his boozy father, Jia Fengsen, and in Zhang's assured script and direction, which make no excuses for the "characters," yet manage finally to explain and endear them to us.

Quitting was directed by Zhang Yang; written by Huo Xin and Zhang; produced by Peter Loehr; and stars Jia Hongsheng and Jia Fengsen. See the Neighborhood Movie Guide for theater info.

 
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