Review A New Old Play by James Ellis

A New Old Play: Qiu Jiongjiong’s creative saga commands more eyes on it

 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Now here is a complete delight. Something out of the blue and now a shining testament to international, indie cinema. Qiu Jiongjiong has created this three hour epic, a feat that is highly impressive. I was both moved and amused in equal measure. 

Yi Sicheng is Qiu Fu, a renowned Szechuan opera singer, who is being sent to the other world, after a life filled with joy, pain, love and creation. Sicheng is very matter of fact in the role, his clown like features include a red nose and his little dock man’s cap. This remains a highly impressive performance, the length of the film adding to the vast amount of time he’s on screen. It’s very subtlety done from him and it’s hard not to be taken with him.   

This is a film which spans most of China’s turbulent 20th century. I was deeply impressed by the director’s efforts to have a lot of the practical side of things built with love. The models, walls and others set pieces are clearly handmade and adds an extra charm to the film. There are touches of Samuel Beckett, Buddhism, surrealism and German Expressionism abound. It’s a mighty feat, as many characters and historical moments glide along in this not always demanding film, its the length which may deter most for unjust reasons. 

The love of theatre seeps through as well, the stage like production has many fascinating features. There is a cheeky humour to the whole film as well, even with the misery of the Japanese invasion, Mao, The Great Leap Forward, the famine and other depressing moments. Qiu Fu finds a way to get through it all, his craft being loved and loathed in certain moments of history. Things reached the saddest plateau when a baby is left at his doorstep during the horrendous famine, the mother later coming back and thanking them for looking after her child and expecting them to continue the support.

In many respects, little happens in the film, a Zen like presence seems to wash over the lead character as these pivotal events happen around him. Lovers of Chinese opera may find solace here, with many auditions, rehearsals and performances are seen throughout. There’s much humour in the afterlife scenes which even they feature red tape and insufferable waiting times.

As a whole the experience was splendid. It needs many more people to engage with it…the film remains in an early, humble starting ground and we hope more festivals, cinemas and reviewing platforms truly engage with it. It is worthy. 

Dir: Qiu Jiongjiong (18, 179 mins)

A New Old Play is now playing at select cinemas and festivals. 

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