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Chinese Visual Festival: Emergency Room China

May 27, 2013

FestivalsFilm + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia


I was a little worried when I stepped into the auditorium for the opening documentary film of the Chinese Visual Festival, Emergency Room China at King’s College university when I read: ‘This film contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing’. I have no shame in admitting that I do get a bit queasy with certain things, especially if there’s a load of emotional tension to go with it so I took a seat right near the door, afraid that I would have to stumble out half way through. Luckily I found myself pleasantly surprised by the lack of horrifying images, although many were no doubt as ‘disturbing’ as the warning had cautioned. I was glad because I was partly afraid of having to leave and partly afraid that the goriness of it would totally overwhelm my experience of the film, which some documentaries do. Don’t get me wrong, a documentary should be honest and in that honesty there often lies things that people don’t necessarily want to see. But at the other end of the scale, you don’t want to put viewers off so much that they cannot bear to watch anymore, as I felt when watching Michael Moore‘s Fahrenheit 9/11.

The film was directed, shot and edited primarily by the film maker Zhou Hao, who was in the theatre at the time of the screening. It was the very first time the film had been screened for the public and I found myself very aware of other people’s reactions and wondering whether Hao had meant them to be that way. When people laughed I cringed a little thinking maybe he hadn’t intended for it to be funny and that people were laughing at his masterful creation. Yet there were actually many comedic moments in amongst the more tragic ones and I often found myself laughing along (although there were quite a few people there who understood the more Chinese in-jokes in context). The premise of the documentary was merely Hao following ambulances around to find people’s stories to tell and he certainly found a wide range to document. In a few the people were more or less dead already when the emergency services arrived at the scene but a couple provided some in-hospital drama and laughs. I almost felt at times like the film was scripted or that the Chinese just have naturally good comic timing.

Yet clearly not all of the film was fun and games. Not only did we get to delve into some of the most poignant moments of people’s lives but into the inner workings of the medical profession and the relationship these workers develop with their jobs. It is no secret that medical professionals often become cold and seemingly uncaring towards patients but Hao masterfully shows both how sad this is and how in that profession it can’t really be helped. Although Hao stood up before the film was screened and said he had no agenda for reform of the healthcare system in China, there were clear attacks at the bureaucracy and cold-heartedness with which it often operates. It is truly a scintillating experience to see how great these independent Chinese filmmakers are at their craft.

Catherine Bridgman.

The Chinese Visual Festival runs until June 12th at Kings College, London. For more information check out the website: http://chinesevisualfestival.org/