Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers

Bumming in Beijing: The Last Dreamers ★★★★

A documentary portrait of five twenty-something Chinese bohemians struggling to both create art and live day-by-day, this is basically everything Jonathan Larson's Rent is not: empathetic but tough-minded in equal measure, respectful of their youthful idealistic passions but also unsentimental about the practical challenges they face in pursuing those passions—especially in Beijing after the student-led, government-suppressed Tiananmen Square demonstrations on June 4, 1989. Wu's film is considered the starting point for Chinese independent documentary cinema, and while much of it is reliant on a standard talking-heads approach, Bumming in Beijing offers glimmers of the kind of stripped-down aesthetic that would become more prevalent in later Chinese documentaries, most notably in the observational long takes with which Wu captures scenes of Mou Sen's actors rehearsing for a production of Eugene O'Neill's The Great God Brown.

Perhaps one day someone should make the New York equivalent of Wu's documentary (preferably one without a rock score and characters singing about how they're not going to pay rent). Bumming in New York, now there's an idea...