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Durian, Durian

Reviewed by: pjshimmer
Date: 07/18/2005
Summary: More than meets the eye

Bearing a name like Fruit Chan, it is only appropriate that Hong Kong's postcolonial master pull a movie about a fruit! Actually, there is a parallel that runs between the king of fruit and the Mainland-HK relationship and their people, which I belive Paul Fonoroff has summarized in his excellent review (see below).

As an immigrant, I found DURIAN DURIAN packed with subtle emotion. I love the ending so much, somehow touched by the forward tracking shot of the staged opera performance. I can't explain what it is about this shot that moves me; I think it must have illustrated a root in humanity. In any case, when such simplicity commits to memory, I know DURIAN DURIAN is special.


Reviewed by: bkasten
Date: 01/27/2005
Summary: Interesting and rather challenging

Another Fruit Chan existentialist/slice-of-life movie that vividly depicts the underside of HK life from the perspective of both a young northern mainland Chinese woman working as a prostitute in HK, as well as a preteen girl who along with her family from Shenzhen are working illegally in HK.

Both protagonists interact with and within the very fringes of HK society, and we are very carefully never shown the polished outer beauty of the city, but rather the alleys, pipes and sewers that one never sees of the backend. Indeed they are specific examples of poorer and less fortunate peoples that comprise the fringe.

I never really did comprehended the exact nature of the juxtaposition of the very determined, disciplined and confident young mainland woman (who is in HK for the purpose of making money to start her own business), and the completely innocent yet inquisitive preteen girl who is still trying to understand the world around her while helping her mother wash dishes for a restaurant (which we never actually get to see). At one point I was led to believe the preteen was to become like the younger woman, or would be "corrupted" in some way. But that was manifestly not the case. What was clear, was the determination and confidence they both had in dealing with their life situations and made the best of what they had.

The film, being what it is of course, does not really have any simple or explicit point, and the viewer is left to draw their own conclusions about the nature of the characters and their existence. And there is a lot to consider; and , I believe, a lot to challenge the western viewer as things never quite happen is I would expect.

Like all of Fruit Chan's work, the nature of this movie is completely contrary to HK movie industry "product." And within that framework it really stands out. Yet, on the other hand it also fits rather neatly into the larger international independent arthouse genre, and in that regard it's a bit less of a standout; nonetheless, excellent for those with such an interest.

Reviewer Score: 8

Reviewed by: Mikestar*
Date: 05/15/2003
Summary: Durian bears fruit

Since Fruit Chan emerged in late 90s as an innovative director within a precarious industry, his films have often challenged the very nature of Hong Kong identity.

'Durian, Durian' not only represents a new direction for Chan to explore ( story of a Mainland girl who turns to prostitution in Hong Kong, only to return to her 'normal' life China after 3 months) but similarly a shift for the Hong Kong industry itself.

Like Stanley Kwan's 'Lan Yu' which shifts its focus/characters to the Mainland, 'Durian, Durian' actively seeks to incorporate newly emergent China within the Hong Kong imaginary.

The first half of the text (undoubtedly HK style) follows Qin's story in Hong Kong where she works as a prostitute. Whilst it is clear that Qin is an outsider (she speaks Mandarin, she has no family, just fellow 'sisters' from the Mainland) her experince in the Hong Kong is far from that of a tourist. There are no images of Qin on her days off, enjoying the benefits or sites of the SAR itself. Rather the narrative focuses on the monotony and regularity of her everyday life trying to earn as much money as possible. Chan's use of distinct motifs in this segment (peeling of Qin's skin, take-away food, dingy hotels and of course the Durian itself) all highlight her marginal status in society. Throughout this segment however, Chan avoids explicit dogmatism or judgement. He neither explains her situation, nor does he identitfy it as debased or degrading.

The second half of the film reverts to a more sentimentalist Chinese style. Qin returns to her hometown (in Northeast China) to resume her life surrounded by family and community. Here Chan finally reveals details about Qin's past (she is currently married and going through a divorce)and her ambivalent future (will she return to Hong Kong and continue to 'make money').

The ultimate result of combining these two segments highlights the ambiguous relationship of HK and China itself. Chan's focus is on integration and its prickly forms, suggesting the clash of ideologies and lifestyles. Whilst jarring at times and confusing, the final product is an established piece of cinema that challenges steroetpyes divides and preconceptions between SAR and the motherland.

Reviewed by: danton
Date: 01/04/2003

Critically acclaimed Fruit Chan film about a young girl from Northern China working as a prostitute in Shenzhen/HK on a 3 month visa. The film is divided in two halfs, with the first part depicting her time in HK, along with sometimes hilarious portrayals of the various customers, pimps and Mongkok neighbors she runs into, followed by her return home into a snow-covered, bleak industrial town somewhere close to the North Korean border, where she hangs out with old friends and ponders starting her own business with the money earned in the South.

The film has a very documentary feel, opting for a realistic tone that pulls the audience almost unnoticably into the narrative. The acting performances are all strong in a very restrained way, with the main character played by Qin Hailu being a particular standout. Fruit Chan never lets us peak inside the head of this young woman, so the thoughts of this character and how she deals with the debasement of working as a prostitue remain somewhat of an enigma. However, the second part of the movie makes it clear that she sees herself as anything but a victim.

I'm not sure what to make of the repeated occurances of a durian fruit. Several scenes are built around this smelly "King of Fruits", including an assault on one of her pimps - the use of it seems metaphorical for something, but Fruit Chan keeps the symbolism subtle. Probably something about the dual nature of repulsion (the smell) and seduction (the sweet taste) that the South/Capitalism (where Durians are from) represents to people from the North. This explanation may be stretching it a bit, and the film never provides any clear answers. Nevertheless, scenes from the movie kept lingering in my mind for days afterwards, and I found the film to be a refreshing and highly enjoyable viewing experience.

Strongly recommended.

Reviewed by: Paul Fonoroff
Date: 12/04/2000

When the “ten best” lists are compiled for the first year of the new millenium, Durian Durian is sure to be near if not at the top. By far the most substantial Hong Kong movie released in recent months, it is also one of the few to actually have something relevant and meaningful to say about this crazy place in which we live. Director-writer Fruit Chan, in his fourth and best film, takes his “1997 trilogy” (Made in Hong Kong, The Longest Summer, and Little Cheung) one step further, illuminating a pertinent aspect of post-handover Hong Kong and its relationship to the motherland.

More than any other local or Mainland Chinese production, Durian Durian illustrates “one country two systems” in all its unvarnished glory. The film is neatly divided into two parts, with the first half taking place in Hong Kong and the latter half another world away, in Mudanjiang near the North Korean border. The consistent thread is a young Mainland lady, Yan (newcomer Qin Hailu, in the most impressive screen debut of the year). The movie records her stay in Hong Kong where, on a three-month visa, she services as many as three dozen clients a day, and her post-Hong Kong existence back home where she uses her hard-earned cash to become a successful and respected entrepreneuse.

There is a subtle artistry in the director’s seemingly verite approach. There is also an unusual shift in focus, for Yan is not the main character in the film’s Hong Kong section. That belongs to Ah Fun (Mak Wai-fun), a little girl from Guangdong who, along with her mother and brother, lives illegally in Hong Kong. Ah Fun was a supporting character in Little Cheung, thus providing Durian Durian with a forceful yet unforced connection to Fruit Chan’s previous work.

In Durian Durian’s Hong Kong, the SAR is a land of transients who are here to make money, a dirty and emotionally empty place whose gold-paved streets hold the promise of a better life once one takes the gold and moves on. Fruit Chan’s Hong Kong is not unlike the fruit of the title, ugly and smelly (and in one of the movie’s more amusing sequences, potentially fatal), an acquired taste that simultaneously repels and seduces. Fortunately, you don’t have to relish durian to enjoy Durian Durian.

4 Stars

This review is copyright (c) 2000 by Paul Fonoroff. All rights reserved. No part of the review may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

Reviewer Score: 8