Under Review: ‘Buddha Mountain’


A bewigged, heavily made-up, scantily clad, 20-something girl in a nondescript northern Chinese town charges into a bar for her nightly performance at the microphone. While singing to the small raucous bar crowd the mic flings out of her hand, hitting the most belligerent patron in his crotch. An accident?

My third review from Hong Kong is of a mainland production dealing with transition. It continues my education into gaining insight about China from its films.

The man struck by the microphone wants to sue, the bar fires the singer and she, with her two buddies, sets off to find a cheaper place to live while they weather this financial set-back. They end up boarding at the home of a retired Chinese opera singer, who is also a grieving mother. They are not aware of either of these biographical details, being entirely caught up in their own situation.

Before long they have robbed the woman and appropriated her car for a joy ride. They are completely irresponsible. However, something else is also going on. They are the disenfranchised Chinese, the young people who didn’t choose (or didn’t qualify for — or can’t afford) to go to college. They are left wondering what to do with their lives. They are aimless with no future plan.

They are not really employable, having not seemed to have taken training in a craft or trade. Though both the boys also worked in the bar, they haven’t been making enough money to ever support themselves independently, much less support a family. This leaves all three of them isolated and depressed, with no sense of future or belonging to the Chinese community.

At the same time the older woman, who has rented them space in her home, is also grieving for unrealized hopes and dreams. She has lost her son in a car wreck. Sometimes she goes to her garage and just sits in the smashed car, crying in loneliness and despair. Like them, she has nothing to live for. No job, no family, and no purpose.

“Buddha Mountain” shows some universal values and sensitivity. The human need for purpose and for belonging are strong and when unfulfilled lead to great despair.

Li Yu, the director and writer, has taken two lost generations, the young 20-somethings who didn’t go to college and the older retired generation, and shows their similar predicaments. They could be the ones who cannot support themselves, the unemployed, unproductive, retired or disconnected family members, who are the ignored in any society.

Through subtle acting, the female lead won the Best Actress Award at the 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival. Yu, using minimal dialogue, received the award for Best Artistic Contribution.

Yu’s ability to develop plot through facial expressions, music and scenes like hair blowing through the wind on railroad tracks rather than words shows that she is an insightful storyteller who sees life’s great challenges not just in her own Chinese culture, but for humanity at large.

Production Credits
Directed by: Li Yu (37 year old woman)
Written by: Li Yu and Fang Li
Producer: Fang Li
Starring: Sylvia Chang, Fan Bingbing, Chen Po Lin, Fei Long, Jin Jing, Fang Li, Bao Zhenjiang
Country: China
Language: Mandarin
Runtime: 104 minutes
Release: 2011 New York Asian Film Festival, July 1-14, 2011 (North American Premiere)
Awards: Award for Best Actress (Bingbing Fan) and Award for Best Artistic Contribution, 2010 Tokyo International Film Festival, October 23-31, 2010

. . .

Follow Bev Questad on Twitter at

And don’t forget to “Like” It’s Just Movies on Facebook at

1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Alfred #

    Pretty insightful review.

1 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Under Review: ‘No One Killed Jessica’ /  It's Just Movies 01 09 11