By EN LIANG KHONG
The Chinese film expert Shelly Kraicer tells a story about a recurring daydream: he wanders down a narrow Beijing hutong alleyway and finds himself at the ‘Chinese Indie Director’s Discount Emporium’. Here, you can pick from shelves of long-haired drifters, bleak rural landscapes, sweeping long takes – and a discount deal on shaky DV camera footage. There is no special wisdom to Kraicer’s cautionary tale, though it does suggest that a certain formula has taken hold in Chinese independent cinema over recent decades. Since the 1990s, documentarians such as Zhao Liang and Wu Wenguang have dished out uncompromising perspectives on their country’s social fractures, from rubble-strewn landscapes caught between destruction and construction to new floating populations of migrant workers. But their favoured use of the small digital camera as a tool for rapid-response, clandestine filmmaking and the relentless chronicling of the dreary lives and labours of China’s underclasses, can easily make for clichés.