Our friends at Beijing Today will be swinging by every now and then to introduce art and culture around the city. This week, please meet independent filmmaker Lei Yong, whose debut The Young Play Games, The Old Play Tai Chi tells the life of China’s “parasite singles,” young people who have enjoyed education and opportunity but remain unemployed and hapless.
It’s hard to say when Sheep, a 31-year-old Beijinger, last held a job.
While he’s quick to defend his sloth as “waiting for the chance to achieve something great,” Sheep’s life primarily consists of sleeping, drinking and watching porn.
He and his father fight often. Sheep complains that his father failed to provide him with a comfortable life, while his father bemoans his son’s lack of income.
Sheep’s best friend is a thief named Bread, who frequently brings his other thieves to Sheep’s apartment in search of something they can swipe and hawk.
None of them has anything that can be considered a job.
Sheep’s daily excitement is stalking strange girls and scaring them. He does seem to care about one of them, but that story ends in tragedy.
“Sheep has many problems, but he’s not really a bad person,” said director Lei Yong. “His parents have plenty of their own issues.”
The family is designed as a common product of the nation’s family planning policy, which has created a generation rife with single children who are spoiled until they break.
Although many young people go through a transitional phase during which they live off their parents, Sheep is an extreme example. His character seems to blend all the worst aspects of Don Quixote and writer Lu Xun’s character Ah Q – maybe with a bit of the shameless thrown in just to make it weird.
He shouts at his father, blaming him for “destroying me” by failing to become a high-ranking government official or businessman.
Even without a job or income, he likes to brag. He often asks his mother for money to treat his friends to dinner.
The film takes a brutal look at the human tendency to lie or complain when one is unable to face his shortcomings. Lei said he believes all viewers will recall a few moments when they’ve acted uncomfortably similar to Sheep.
Lei’s first film
Born in 1974 in Shanxi province, Lei got his start in media as an editor and reporter. He also wrote several short stories, published in Literature of the Yellow River.
Director Jia Zhangke’s film The Pickpocket was Lei’s primary inspiration.
“Before I saw that film in 2008, I thought cinema stories had little to do with me,” Lei said. “The world of commercial film is too unrealistic.”
But he soon realized film could be about things the average person knows or feels.
“My main disadvantage was a lack of basic filmmaking skills,” Lei said. “I had no experience in using a video camera, composing scenes or editing clips.”
His actors and actresses were all normal people rather than professionals.
“The friend I asked to play Sheep had been out of work for several years. I was also working as a freelancer. His story was something that resonated with both of us,” Lei said.
Other actors were selected among migrant workers Lei met on the street. The actor who plays Bread was very interested in the film and willing to work for free. He also rounded up several friends to be part of the production.
“Amateur actors and actresses are what I needed,” Lei said. He could not afford professionals, and the story of the film is much closer to the lives of normal people.
Lei said he wrote the script in a black notebook one week before shooting. He reworked the dialogue based on how the actors interacted on the first day.
“Some of the original lines seemed too stiff and unnatural for the actors,” Lei said.
Lei is currently working on a new film, Guarder, Guarder’s Friend, the Girlfriend of the Guarder’s Friend.
The film continues to tackle the extremes of modern Chinese society with irony, criticism and wit.
This post originally appeared on Beijing Today.