Blind Massage

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2014-12-3 17:03:01

Chinese director Lou Ye successfully brings an award-winning novel to the big screen

In 2011, the novel Blind Massage by Chinese writer Bi Feiyu won the 8th Mao Dun Literature Prize, one of the highest honors in Chinese literature. The committee of judges said "Blind Massage leads people to the secluded corners of urban life, where a group of blind people explore the world and explore themselves. Bi Feiyu faces up to complex living experiences of this era, comes through difficulties of understanding and expression, presents the veins of social life and sheds light upon both invisible defects and the goodness of humans."

A poster for Lou Ye's critically acclaimed film Blind Massage Photos: CFP

Such an appraisal is also applicable to the new film adaptation of the novel by Chinese director Lou Ye, which debuted in the Chinese mainland cinemas on November 28. The film follows group of blind masseurs and masseuses in Nanjing at the end of 20th century and their complicated stories of chasing love.

The film won the Award for Best Adapted Screenplay at this year's Golden Horse Awards in Taiwan. Screenwriter Ma Yingli said she had initially thought it impossible to write the script, as there are no conventional protagonists, major story arc or dramatic conflicts in the novel. However, she accepted the challenge after being encouraged by both Bi and Lou.

The film won in another five categories at the Golden Horse Awards, including Best Film, Best Cinematography, Best Sound Effects, and Best Film Editing. "It is the longest film project of Lou Ye, who successfully integrated blind people and professional actors in the film. (The film features) excellent details and a mild and intricate plot," the awards committee said.

Chinese actors Guo Xiaodong (left) and Zhang Lei play lovers in Blind Massage.

Earlier this year, Berlin International Film Festival credited the film with a Silver Bear prize for Outstanding Artistic Contribution for Cinematography.

The film starts with Xiaoma (Huang Xuan) losing his eyesight in a car accident aged 9.

Xiaoma grows up to become a masseur at the Sha Zongqi Massage Center owned by Sha Fuming (Qin Hao) and Zhang Zongqi (Wang Zhihua).

Sha's old classmates from a school for the blind Dr Wang (Guo Xiaodong) and Dr Wang's girlfriend Xiaokong (Zhang Lei) start work at the center after they return from Shenzhen, where Dr Wang lost his fortune in the stock market. Xiaoma finds himself being irresistibly attracted to Xiaokong, while Sha meanwhile develops an unrequited love for masseuse Du Hong (Mei Ting).

Like the novel, there are many characters in the film to keep track of. Besides the aforementioned relationships, other love stories between sighted and blind people make up a significant part of the film. Despite all these plots to follow, the film doesn't lose its focus, with the complex love stories making an insightful tableau.

What Lou and Bi both succeed in is not treating their subjects as curiosities, but as real people whose lives the audience can relate to. With its great capacity for storytelling, the film seems like an absorbing documentary of a small community.

Among the aforementioned actors, only Zhang Lei and Wang Zhihua are actually blind. Both were massage workers before the film was made, and had no prior acting experience. The other performers went to schools for the blind to research their roles.

Qin's performance is remarkably natural, while Huang, Guo and Mei also give convincing performances.

Lou's capacity to capture details also helps bring out the distinctive subtleties of each character.

In order to depict the experiences of blind people in the film, blurred footage is often used. A female voice-over through the film introduces story points and facilitates development.

One of the most impressive scenes is when one masseur recovers some of his eyesight after experiencing physical abuse. The camera takes on his point of view, which is blurred and shaky, as he runs wildly into the street to embrace the small amount of light he can now see, to the backing of a soaring soundtrack. The scene makes for a mixed sense of melancholic freedom after a long period of incarceration.

While the film has had a number of scenes involving sex and violence removed at the behest of the authorities, Blind Massage is still a great success, throwing light on a neglected segment of society and demystifying their lives.


Everyone's a critic

Hu Pei

28, editor

"Although the film can't bring out psychological feelings as the novel does, the director has successfully created a real inner world of blind people through shaky and blurred shots that mimic a blind person's viewpoint. The shots are not so comfortable for the eyes, but they are so vivid."

Song Fengtian

24, public relations

"It's a very powerful film that addresses some very real questions. I think it offers a brand-new perspective on blind people too."

Ban Fei

27, salesman

"I didn't expect for the film to be screened on the Chinese mainland, as I knew there were many bloody and sexual scenes. I should say congratulations to Lou for this film. It's very good."

Posted in: Film, Metro Shanghai, Culture

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