LAFF Report: Grain in Ear (Mang Zhong) Review
Raise your hand if you know what it's like to be a single Korean-Chinese mother living at the edge of society.
Cui (Liu Lianji) is raising her playful son the best she can. She dutifully tries to teach him the Korean alphabet and speaks to him in Korean. She tricycles around a rather desolate Chinese town offering kimchi for sale. She is cordial to the gaggle of prostitutes who live next door.
She is 32 years old and subject to the vagaries of the local patrol, who can take away her business at any time because she lacks a permit. She is subject to the vagaries of her own feelings of inadequacy and loneliness. Most of all, she is subject to the vagaries of men—a Korean customer, a policeman, a neighbor—who are either married or about to be, and who find that this single mother of uncommon ancestry is irresistible.
Director Zhang Lu uses all the tools of minimalist filmmaking—long, static scenes alternated with occasional, lyrical tracking shots, little dialogue, allusive storytelling—and adds welcome humor. The characters are clearly defined by their actions, and it's difficult not to fall in love with Cui and her little boy.
Cui is struggling to maintain her ethnic identity. She is presented as a woman with a past, but her personal history is only hinted at. She is certainly bold enough when she wants to be, as demonstrated by her straightfoward foreplay with one man, and rejection of another. Yet she has suffered enough in her lifetime to recognize when the odds are stacked against her. In those situations, she acquiesces to the inevitable.
As noted, other characters are sharply drawn, either with sympathy—as with the prostitutes next door, who range from petty selfishness to wistful desperation—or scorn—as with the hen-pecked Korean husband or the Chinese policeman resisting the limitations of his impending marriage.
The picture never wallows in pity. It's filled with disarming warmth toward Cui and her son, and even acknowledges the pressures that fall upon those heinous men who makes their lives so difficult. Highly recommended.
Grain in Ear plays again this afternoon at the Italian Cultural Institute. It debuted at Cannes last year, and has also played at the Chicago, Pusan, and Hong Kong festivals.
The official site (Korean only) is here.