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The tragic-comic cucumber

DIRECTOR Zhou Yaowu's first feature film "Cucumber" looks at three struggling families who are linked sadly through the common vegetable that conveys great significance. Yao Minji explains When "Cucumber" was selected for special critics' screening at the 65th Venice International Film Festival, many media called director Zhou "an apprentice of Jia Zhangke," who won the Golden Lion in 2006.

Zhou is not an acolyte, though the 33-year-old attended Jia's training camp for young directors in 2007 and considers Jia "a film master and my spiritual idol."

Veneration aside, Zhou didn't choose to replicate the style of his idol, whether in his short films or in "Cucumber," his first feature movie. It will be screened tonight.

The only thing "Cucumber" has in common with Jia's films is director Zhou's empathy for those living on the fringes of society. And there are a lot of long shots.

Yes, the long shots do slow the film down, as they do in many independent or art-house movies.

But, no, it is not boring. It has a plot, a rather appealing one with three tangentially connected stories, linked by the humble vegetable.

"It is not my purpose to reflect reality in my film, otherwise I would have done a documentary," Zhou say. "I only want to show my respect for the insignificant people and the most ordinary kind of life through a detailed representation of reality."

He has been showing the 103-minute film at independent film venues around China since last year. A serial screening of "Cucumber" in Shanghai started last week. Zhou spoke to audiences afterward.

Zhou comes from a small village in Henan Province, "where cheap labor is the only resource." He moved to Beijing after high school. It's common for those rural youth to move to big cities for better opportunities. Most would never think of returning.

Like many out-of-town workers, Zhou toiled at many low-paying jobs, such as chopping vegetables in a small restaurant kitchen and feeding chickens on a farm, while taking design classes. He knows what it's like to live at the bottom.

In 2001, Zhou started to work in advertising and has been making his own movies since then. He completed "Cucumber" last year.

In "Cucumber," Zhou traces three families in Beijing, with the same surname Chen, one of the most common in China. The families represent three generations and three typical examples of people living on the bottom. They are linked, sadly, by cucumbers.

The older Chen, in his 40s, suffers from a sense of inadequacy in society and in his family: He has been laid off from work, and he's impotent.

The youngest Chen, a film school graduate, cherishes a dream of becoming a great director, but he's unemployed and lives at home. He loses his mind when he finds out that his girlfriend supports him financially through prostitution.

The middle Chen, an ordinary unlicensed vegetable vendor, pins all his hopes on his 10-year-old son.

In addition to the surname, the three Chens share a kitchen addiction. Since each has plenty of time on his hands, they cook the same dish every day. Older Chen makes stir-fry kidneys (in traditional Chinese medicine, kidneys are used to treat impotence), young Chen prepares kung pao chicken and middle Chen favors fish-flavored shredded pork.

All are common Chinese dishes, and each requires cucumber.

But cucumber is more than a common ingredient. The older Chen kicks a cucumber in frustration after he gets tired of trying secret remedies for impotence.

Ten-year-old Chen, son of middle Chen, throws rocks at cucumbers after his bossy mother feeds him yet again with unsold cucumbers from his father's vending cart.

And young film lover Chen's girlfriend bursts into tears as a truck of cucumbers lumbers by, just after Chen finds out about her job.

"Everyone has his own troubles and struggles he cannot speak about. I always want to shoot a film that pays attention to the ordinary people, to show my respect and concern for them, emotionally and spiritually," says Zhou. "I told myself not to go for the extreme. I want to explore the hidden suffering of those who are really down and out."

Zhou admits that his own experience and emotions are reflected in the movie, particularly in young wannabe director Chen, who doesn't compromise his artistic aspirations despite his unemployment.

"It's not only the film director. It's common for many young people to feel confused about the future," says Zhou, "when their dream bubbles burst and they feel nostalgic for their lost passion. We all struggle and fail."

Date: March 27, 10pm

Venue: eSPResso Coffee, 691 Jiujiang Rd

Tel: 6352-5612 Music

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Live Music

Live Show

Live Bar near Fudan University is a favorite among local students and hip "literary youth" as one of the few supporters of local rock music. This weekend, It presents Beijing punk band Rating Power and Shanghai glamorous rock band Glazed Rose.

Date: March 27, 9:30pm

Venue: Live Bar, 721 Kunming Rd

Tel: 136-517-87064

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The ghetto-tech/visual/dutch pop group Mayming is hard to be assigned to any existing categories. Cellist Semay Wu and Seaming To experiment with electronic effects and loop sampling in music as the basis for their improvisation, a combination of sounds from cello, vocal, laptop and sampler.

Date: April 3, 8pm

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Date: March 29, 8pm

Venue: 021 bar, 1436, Jungong Road

Tickets: 60 yuan

March Screening

The film-themed cafe eSPResso Coffee features music and youth in March. Scheduled for March 31 is Swiss film "Vitus."

Date: March 31, 7:30pm

Venue: eSPResso Coffee, 691 Jiujiang Rd

Tel: 6352-5612Tickets: 25 yuan


'When We Dead Awaken'

It is the last work of Henrik Johan Ibsen, the major Norwegian playwright of realistic drama who has an especially significant influence on modern Chinese dramas. Drama Studio 802 has illustrated it in 2001 as their debut show, a sold-out success. And they are back.

Date: March 27-29, 7:15pm

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