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Documentary on mega eatery explores China

THE documentary, "The World's Biggest Chinese Restaurant," is the tale of an eatery that seats 5,000 guests and employs 1,000. It explores society through the prism of its dining. Yao Minji reports.

Chen Weijun is very well known among Chinese independent film circles, especially among documentary film makers, both for his bold achievements and his courageous experience.

Chen's first documentary, "To Live Is Better Than To Die" (2003), created a huge stir. It is among the most praised and talked-about films in independent screening sessions or documentary events in China, though most people have never heard of, let alone seen it. It's about a family affected by HIV/AIDS.

Many film makers and filmgoers hold Chen in awe for this work. Conquering his own fears of the disease (and learning the facts), Chen followed the family for years. The film ends on a shocking note of death.

His next film, "Please Vote For Me" (2007) won him even greater recognition. It won an Oscar nomination in 2008 for Best Documentary Film and was the only Chinese film selected by the Sterling Feature Competition.

In this film, Chen followed a small election involving a group of primary school kids and recorded how the kids and their families made efforts to win trust and votes.

Many people wondered where the television director and producer at Wuhan TV Station would go for his next step, then came his current work "The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World." He is now screening it around the country and discussing it with the audience.

"Xihu Lou," or "West Lake Restaurant," in Changsha of China's Hunan Province thousands of kilometers from the real West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, is considered the largest Chinese restaurant in the world. It has more than 5,000 seats and 1,000 staff.

Before the screening, audiences were warned there would be distressing shots of animals cruelly killed. However, the film is quite upbeat, even comedic and has the feeling of a musical comedy.

The 80-minute documentary follows the daily routine of the huge restaurant and its staff, headed by a middle-aged woman owner. Through the preparation and serving of three large banquets in the restaurant, Chen encapsulates the essence of many traditional Chinese values in this restaurant.

For example, the owner requires the manager to hold a daily staff meeting, not only listing the day's schedule but also encouraging the staff with shouted slogans, which they repeat, like "Work Hard" and "Serve Well."

These seemingly old-fashioned scenes still occur all around China every day when staff gathers outside shops, restaurants and other establishments in the early morning, even in Beijing and Shanghai.

Since the film was financed by foreign companies, many Chinese viewers worried it would be another film shot for expats. But then Chinese viewers murmured, "That's crazy, but it's so realistic."

Scenes, such as the cook killing the chicken and customers wasting food, seem absurd or surrealistic, yet they are true to reality.

Chen is on a national tour to show the film in independent/art venues around the country and discuss it with the audience.


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Live Music

Happy Avenue

The Beijing rock band, celebrating their 10th anniversary today, released their second album last year. They are on a national tour and will play again in Shanghai where they were cheered in the past.

Date: May 9, 2pm

Venue: O3, 93 Lingling Rd

Tel: 6416-4645

Tickets: 40 yuan

Yang Hai

The 31-year-old Miao minority folk singer is always on the road. The guitar is his only companion and music is his communication to the outside world. He will be stopping in Shanghai soon and will sing about his journey.

Date: May 8, 9pm

Venue: Live Bar, 721 Kunming RdTickets: 30 yuan

The Honeys

A veteran Shanghainese rock band went on their first American tour two years ago and then enjoyed more fame and performances back home afterward. Finally, they will play a mini concert featuring their second album at Shanghai's rock 'n' roll live house, Yuyintang.

Date: May 10, 9pm

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Film Discussion

Veteran editors and writers from Shanghai Translation Publishing House invite film lovers to discuss great films and the novels behind them.

Date: May 9, 2pm

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Cozy Screening

The owner has always dreamed of owning a personal cinema where friends can share their love of movies. Hence, here comes Nian Nian's Home - a small and warm personal space. All film lovers are invited; book in advance.

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Students from Shanghai Conservatory of Music will stage the classic award-winning Broadway show "Company." It won six Tony Awards, stage equivalent of the Oscars, in 1971 and has been popular since its debut in 1970.

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Simple Theater Group debuts with this Indian-based drama. The group is so named out of its simple love for theater and performance. The drama is about blind beggars in a temple in the countryside.

Date: May 2-3, 2:30pm, 7:30pm

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