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Original Title:
Fu sheng

China 2006


Sheng Zhimin

Liao Zhong
Xu Tao
Wang Lan
He Xingquan
Guan Jiangge
He Qin

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Story: Lao Li (He Xingquan) is a retired policeman, who married a second time after his first wife left him. His second wife, Xiu'e (Guan Jiangge), brings her son Xiaolei (Xu Tao) into marriage, who likes to roam the streets with a bunch of hooligans and has just been released from prison after a short time he had to serve a sentence. Xiaolei gets a job at a cable car, eventually. He makes friends with his young female colleague Qian Xue (He Qin), for whom he soon starts to have feelings. However, Xiaolei is still quarreling with his parents and continues to meet his old friends, who keep dragging him into a swamp of crime.
One day, Lao Li suddenly is sent the ashes of his now deceased wife. For years he didn't hear a word from her, but despite everything that she did to him and their mutual son Jianjun (Liao Zhong), both father and son mourn upon hearing the news. Jianjun also has to face another crisis, as things aren't looking bright for him now. Jianjun's marriage with Xiaohong (Wang Lan) seems to be star-crossed. Xiaohong was only Jianjun's second choice as his wife, as he actually loved another woman, who he just feared would leave him one day. Xiaohong can sense these feelings of her husband and is unhappy about her marriage, which is also why she is cheating on him. Yet, in spite of all the problems, there actually seems to be love between the two, which gives them the power to go on and solve their difficulties.

Review: "Bliss" is a drama about loneliness in Chinese society, a society which is constantly undergoing a radical change these days. Family is not what it used to be anymore, traditional values become less important, and thus people in China, in exchange for the hope of material wealth, lose what is supposed to be the most important good in life: love and family.
Over and over again, when we turn on the TV, we learn about Chinese migrant workers and simple people, who give up everything just to get a piece of the cake that is the country's prosperity. While most of the migrant workers try to get some money to finance the education of their children for them to have a better perspective later on in their life, "Bliss" shows that it's not always about family. At least not anymore.
Director Sheng Zhimin approaches this interesting theme, but gets lost in your standard Art-House remoteness, with which he depicts the problems he wants to address. His pictures look way too cold for the viewer to really care, let alone be affected by the film.

"Bliss" has a very slow pacing, which drags a lot and is also quite somniferous at times. Oftentimes we have the feeling that there is nothing happening on screen at all, which is also because the director takes all the time in the world to depict even the most trivial things. However, at some point we get aware that we are introduced to the lives of the different characters, become familiar with their relationships and that we more and more are encouraged to be interested in them, which we actually do at some points in the movie. Still, the actual emotional side of the film, which is supposed to connect with us, is just missing. The characters are all very withdrawn and reserved. Even during the scenes when they openly show their emotions, this is still quite apparent and annoying. We never feel moved, or inspired to reflect about what we get to see here. But why is that so, even though the film is radiating the word drama all over?

The reason for the fact that the audience can never weave a bond to the protagonists or the dramatic aspect of the film is the sterile directing. Sheng Zhimin often makes his movie seem like a documentation and works in so much arthouse stuff, that it eventually has to alienate the viewer. We get long shots, that always bestow a certain zero-dynamic upon the film, and moreover we also get to see most scenes shot from a distance. This creates unnecessary emotional distance, which may be the movie's theme, also, but the way it is made use of really doesn't play into the hands of the film and what it wants to achieve.
In contrast to this, there are some well-done outdoor shots, nonetheless. We also are presented with nice pictures portraying the contrast between run-down buildings and the neon-light city. All of this is covered with a blueish filter, that together with the constant mist, which Chongqing's skyscrapers are shrouded with, seem to suppress any emotion. Even though we can also find the same emotional coldness in these pictures, which saturates the whole movie, they still can arouse some enthusiasm concerning the cinematography at least, which is actually the film's only strong point.

Granted, the subtle way we are introduced to the lives of the characters isn't that bad, and there surely is a lot to discover, too. There is the father who is trying to keep his family from falling apart, a son who originally didn't marry his wife because of love, but then slowly starts to develop some feelings towards her, and another son who doesn't learn from his mistakes and despite a small love story again falls victim to the bad influence of his hooligan friends. Interestingly enough, there are also some small sudden bursts of violence, but the most outstanding scene is the one in which we witness an accident, as the teenagers jump from one rooftop to the next. It's a very realistic and affecting scene, but it's also scenes like this that make us wonder what purpose they are actually serving for the movie. Furthermore, sometimes the characters actions aren't quite conclusive. Jianjun catches his wife cheating on him, and still he doesn't say a single word about this afterwards. Sure, we can derive a lot from this about the relationship of the couple, but it still doesn't seem authentic. And being unrealistic is nothing you would want for a movie that is aiming so much for authenticity and profoundess as "Bliss" does.

At the end we are left with the impression that director Sheng Zhimin tried to create a profound work that was mainly supposed to please Art-House-fans and -critics. But in fact "Bliss" proves to be a drama that demands more complexity for its effort than there actually is to be found. Together with the cold direction, the subtle style of the film couldn't arouse any feelings in me, and will release you into an ending that comes way too sudden and leaves a lot of questions about the different characters' fate open. A good drama would have inspired the viewer to reflect a little bit more and find the information he wanted somewhere hidden within the film. "Bliss", however, doesn't. It may have won some awards, but most probably only because critics thought that this movie with its Art-House flair certainly deserved an award.
At the bottom line, "Bliss" is everything but touching. Boredom is a word you should get used to, if you want to watch this flick. As far as it concerns me, I was a lot more entertained by a TV-documentation I saw the same evening, which focused on the same topic, namely modernization, loss of moral values and the sense for the traditional meaning of family. Only absolute Hardcore Arthouse-Fans should favor this drama over a mediocre TV-documentation.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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