A comprehensive survey of creative life in contemporary Beijing, SWING IN BEIJING captures a remarkable impression of the current state of fine and performing arts in this rapidly changing city. Academy Award nominee Shui-Bo Wang integrates interviews with artists, filmmakers, and musicians with footage of films, plays, musical performances, paintings, and other artwork in galleries and studios, and revealing footage of a city in transition.
Although government censorship has been a threat to artists in China for years, many of the artists cite the lack of venues and financial support as the new censorship. Gao Xing (age 26, lead singer of the punk group Underbaby) and his friends say it isn't the government but music producers and MTV-China that demand less controversial lyrics. For painter Wei Dong self-censorship is the danger: During the Cultural Revolution his parents were persecuted, and Wei knows his memories must influence him in some way.
The painful transformation of Beijing is a subject many of the artists confront. In response to the destruction of the old quarter, Wei Dong explores artistic methods that embrace modernization but preserve Chinese culture. Filmmaker Jia Khang Ke explores the loss of traditional values and culture as well. Using his small, hometown Penang as the setting, his most recent film is a meditation on the dissolution of the traditional family in China. Zhan Wang is also troubled by the demolition of the old District. In his state-owned art studio he creates work that asks, "Where do we come from?" Freed from financial constraints by his work as a commercial artist, Zhan creates conceptual art by photographing the demolished old district, then photographing the same area after his 'renovations.'
The value of Western recognition is also debated. While selection for a Western show like the Venice Bi-annual guarantees international fame, the selected pieces are often shown out of context, diluting their power.
Finally, SWING IN BEIJING takes us to the Central Experimental Playhouse for a production of Dario Fo's Death of an Anarchist. Director Men Jeng Hui was a student activist during the Tiananmen uprising, and says the events of 1989 are his formative experiences. Citing Stanislavsky's student Meyerhold as his inspiration, he insists that theater always needs revolution. By raising private funds (the government has cut funding to the theater) Jeng was able to put on a production that is openly challenging to authority.
Shui-Bo Wang has returned to the cradle of his artistic development, creating an informative and surprising film about the challenges and rewards of the life of an artist in present-day Beijing.
"Striking! Compelling! Expresses the ambivalent and often ironic perspective of artists born and raised during the Cultural Revolution as they come to terms with China's accelerated economic, social, and cultural transition in the 1990s. The artists profiled... are all revolutionary, and this film is an incredibly rare opportunity not only to view their work, but to hear their voices." - Asian Theatre Journal
2002 Association for Asian Studies Film Festival
Editor's Choice, Giant Robot Magazine (2002)
"A powerful impression of a varied, radical, and seemingly vibrant arts underground. The film is valuable in that it takes viewers to places that even well-connected Chinese and foreigners would be unlikely to visit. A surprising, provocative, and stimulating look at this potentially influential subculture." - Professor Patrick Dowdey, Wesleyan University, Curator of the Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies, for Asian Educational Media Service 'News and Reviews'
"A wonderful present day look at the limits of artistic freedom in China [and] incessantly interesting look at these vital issues, made up of mixture of interviews with young Chinese artists, filmmakers, and musicians (who speak with surprising candor), along with clips from plays and films, art exhibitions, and visits to the artists' studios. This film is of great value to American university students, not only as a way to learn about 'Red China,' but, more importantly, as a way to better understand the acts of their own government." - Ballast Quarterly Review