What if you want to make a documentary about someone, and that someone doesn’t want you to do it? Would you still do it, and if so, how?
Wu Haohao, an experimental filmmaker from Taiyuan, is sometimes referred as “Little Godard”. It is easier to see why, though the French filmmaker never puts himself so much into his films. Wu Haohao isn’t afraid to go up close and personal, and if his previous multi-award winning film Kun 1: Action! shows anything, is that he defies any comparison.
After a successful Criticising Ai Weiwei, where Wu follows the famous chinese director around until the man loses all patience and explodes on camera, it is understandable that his request to talk to Xu Tong has not been received kindly. Instead of archiving the idea, however, Wu Haohao gets hands on and makes the most amazing documentary about the absent subject. Using mostly Xu Tong’s Wheat Harvest, a hidden camera documentary about prostitutes, as a study object, Wu goes to criticize Xu Tong’s methods, lack of morality, and while at it, goes full rage on himself, as he is also creating a fake object (and voilá, he deconstructs his process in front of the camera), and ultimately it’s all the audience’s fault, as they are the ones that demand their curiosity to be satisfied by “documentaries”.
Using sound (or lack of), minimal filming and photomontages, Production on Criticizing Xu Tong looks at times like a powerpoint put together last minute by a very graphic design blind student, but its humour and absolute truisms – everything is a commodity under the camera lens – make it a true piece of art, and the most refreshing short documentary of recent times. It’s hard not to fall into the manipulation, even the said manipulation is self-referring and trying as hard to put distance between film and audience. In the end, paradoxically as it may seem, we believe Wu Haohao despite, and maybe because, he tells us constantly not to. He’s making films to appear attractive to the opposite sex (girls do love creative types), and he’s as much a documentary filmmaker as Xu Tong, as they both use the same language.
Hard to describe, and unforgettable once you see it, take it with a pinch of salt and self-awareness, and dive deep into the world of China’s most innovative enfant terrible.
The Chinese Visual Festival is in London until 22nd May. For more information please visit chinesevisualfestival.org