Kaili Blues by director Gan Bi is a Chinese vision quest that could be the memory of a dream or the dream of a memory. It moves fluidly in time and space as Chen, a doctor from Kaili recounts events in his life around his early days as a criminal to the loss of his nephew Weiwei who’s been taken away to another province to live. It’s unclear where in time these events are and not important. It’s also not obvious how real some of it is.
“Chen is searching for his nephew, but also seeking something like meaning as well…”
Chen decides to find Weiwei and sets off across the mountainous countryside by bus, motorcycle, and pickup truck. The trip is filled with contradictions as he rolls by richly lush stunning tropical landscapes and then through villages that look as though they will crumble into rubble at any moment. We are carried along with long seamless shots as if flying behind the vehicles as Chen makes his way along.
At his clinic there’s an older colleague, a woman named Guanglin who’s wisdom and cynicism are often refreshing and humorous in their conversations. When she hears he means to travel, she recounts the story of a romance she’d had once with a man named Airen and gives Chen some mementos for the man if he can find him in Zhenyuan, where Chen seeks out a group of Miao lusheng pipe players, who he hears may know where Airen is. He learns the man has died when he talks to his son.
Chen is searching for his nephew, but also seeking something like meaning as well, he’s mulling over the mistakes of his life, missing his wife who died while he was in prison, and having trouble finding a person or place to connect with. Once he finds Weiwei he sees that his nephew has settled in and has a life there in Zhenyuan with no apparent need for an errant uncle to spirit him away.
“Kaili Blues is more about tone and emotion than plot or character specifics.”
No one seems even slightly phased at events or discussions that would hit a westerner as quite odd about Chen and his search. People seem to be intensely unaffected by conversation and don’t react with much emotion. You are left unsure whether this is because it’s China or because it’s a dream. Having never been to China my mental images of the place are what I’ve seen of the cities, primarily, in movies and television. This tour of the rural villages is illuminating and has a completely different vibe from the usual impression we get in the west.
Not for everyone, Kaili Blues is more about tone and emotion than plot or character specifics. The cinematography is startlingly rich in the greens and blues of the landscape sliding by as you travel with Chen. I can’t say for sure whether I’d have been drawn to this film on my own but I enjoyed the time I spent with it. Quiet and dreamlike and lovely to look at. Each moment hangs in the air complete in a way without much context and you may find something in that contemplation that makes you consider where you are and where you’re going.
Kaili Blues (2015) Written and Directed by Gan Bi. Starring Yongzhong Chen, Linyan Liu, Feiyang Luo, Lixun Xie, Zhuohua Yang, Shixue Yu, Daqing Zhao, Yue Guo
7 out of 10