One of the greatest things about the New York Asian Film festival is the depth of the films they cover. The crazy, blood-splattered genre offerings and martial arts extravaganzas usually grab the most attention but it’s the smaller, more dramatic films that usually surprise.

Case in point, Buddha Mountain. It tells the story of three childhood friends; Nan Feng (Fan Bingbing, who won best Actress for this role), Ding Bo (Wilson Chen) and Soap (Fei Long- the actor, not the Street Fighter character). They spend their time as only young folks can- drinking and singing karaoke and getting into fights all night and half-looking for work during the day while doing more drinking and slacking. They’re starting to reach that critical age where life stops being as fun as it used to, and they have to worry about money and finding a place to live. They’re not happy about it, especially seeing as they all come from broken homes.

They find an ad for a place to stay that ends up being at the apartment of a middle-aged retired Peking Opera singer Chang Yueqin (Taiwanese vet Sylvia Chang from The Red Violin). She agrees to let them stay but she’s a tough old bird, and has a lot of rules in the house.

The two generations obviously clash, in humorous ways. Yueqin wakes up the kids at six o’clock every morning with his operatic singing, and she’s disgusted that they eat nothing but fast food. The kids play pranks on her constantly. They don’t listen to her rules and regulations and sometimes overstep their bounds, showing a selfish cruelty that comes from being downtrodden for so long.

Eventually of course they all start to see eye to eye, and it’s here that the drama really kicks into gear, as you realize that part of the reason that Yueqin lets these kids stay around is because she lost her son in a car accident.

Buddha Mountain is about loneliness, life, and all the struggles we face on the way. It’s a remarkable film that somehow manages to weave together the energy and freedom of youth with the sentimentality and regrets of old age. There isn’t a wasted moment in the film- it frequently jumps large amounts of time from scene to scene, showing us only vital moments. The brisk pace mimics the feeling of life completely- there are exciting parts, sad parts, even those little nothing moments that somehow stick in your head.

Director Li Yu is well known as being heavy critical of Chinese life, as you’ll know from her banned film Lost in Bejing. Buddha Mountain has glimpses of this but it stays away from the politics, focusing instead on these flawed characters and a generation that doesn’t know how to grow up.


Out of a Possible 5 Stars

Buddha Mountain is playing the New York Asian Film Festival on Sunday, July 3rd at 9:10pm and Tuesday July 5th at 1:30pm. Check the official site for ticket information.


More reviews from the 2011 NYAFF-

BKO: Bangkok Knockout

Machete Maidens Unleashed!