Swan Song

Zhang Zeming is one of the lesser-known talents to emerge from the “Fifth Generation,” the group of filmmakers who revolutionized Chinese cinema in the 80s, but his 1985 debut shows a masterful command of irony and narrative rhythm. The story spans three tumultuous decades in postwar China, as a proud but self-effacing Cantonese opera composer (Kung Zianzhu) loses everything in the Cultural Revolution and his son (Chen Rui), a cynical rebel, comes to appreciate his father’s legacy. Unlike his film academy contemporaries, Zhang bows to an earlier generation of directors with his sentimental belief in the permanence of art and his veiled distaste for two-faced bureaucrats and corrupt consumerism. He also shows a keen nostalgia for the centuries-old district in Canton where most of the action takes place, a dilapidated area where the neighbors still gather at night to indulge in an operatic aria or two. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Sunday, June 7, 2:00 and 6:00, 312-443-3737.

–Ted Shen

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): film still.