This week in movies you missed: a visit to China, where two citizen journalists sneak over the "Great Firewall" to offer alternatives to government-sanctioned news.
What You Missed
When 27-year-old blogger "Zola" (real name: Zhou Shuguang) hears about a government cover-up, he's on the case. To mock the official story about a young girl's death — rumor is, she was murdered — he makes a viral video of himself on the bridge from which she supposedly leapt. Some call it insensitive, but Zola gets hits.
Far away in Beijing, 57-year-old "Tiger Temple" (real name: Zhang Shihe) is on his own crusade. He's helped the city's homeless find housing and biked more than 1000 kilometers to shoot footage of farmland flooded with sewage.
Zhang started his dangerous career as a critic of the government with videos of his kitten — because who would censor a talking cat? But now his blogging is starting to attract real attention.
Why You Missed It
The 2012 documentary from Stephen Maing played one U.S. theater. You may have caught it on PBS, and now it's on Netflix Instant.
Should You Keep Missing It?
High Tech, Low Life is an intimate portrait of two men defying a repressive government for very different reasons. It taught me a lot about "Zola" and "Tiger," and very little about the general state of media censorship in China, the government's official justification for it, or the penalties for spreading unapproved information. Basically, it's an inspiration to go learn more.
But a good inspiration. Maing is also a cinematographer, and he captures China, especially the rural landscapes through which Zhang pedals (pictured), with detail and beauty.
The contrast between the two bloggers (who meet only once in the film) is fascinating. Both lead fairly solitary lives: Zhang is divorced and shares his small apartment with two cats, while Zhou's rural parents constantly rag on him for not getting married and starting a more lucrative career. His mom tells him he needs a more communitarian outlook, while he, in grumpy-teenager mode, calls himself an individualist.
But that also separates the much-younger Zhou from Zhang, who grew up and underwent severe hardships under the Cultural Revolution. Still, he, like Zhou's parents, thinks first of the community, seeing himself as a servant of the oppressed common people whom the state is ignoring.
Zhou, by contrast, clearly likes being internet famous and cultivating an in-your-face persona, like so many bloggers the world over. But, hey — if he can make muck-raking journalism seem cool, more power to him.
Verdict: We talk a lot about "citizen journalism" these days, so it's instructive to see it in a context where it appears to be the only possible form of journalism. I'm still wondering, though, how many such bloggers operate in China, what stories they've broken and how much influence they wield.
In Theaters This Week
A mafia family goes to France for murderous hijinks in The Family. More horror (?) in the sequel to Insidious. A single gal looks for Mr. Darcy at Austenland, at the Roxy and Savoy.
Also, at the Palace 9, you'll find The Grand Master, a biopic from Wong Kar Wai; two flicks that are also on DVD (At Any Price and Love Is All You Need); and encores of Much Ado About Nothing and Unfinished Song.
On Video This Week
Why would you watch anything else when you could be catching up with the past five seasons of "Breaking Bad"? (Three episodes left to watch live, people!) But, should you so choose, you can now watch Star Trek Into Darkness, Chasing Ice, War Witch, Peeples and season 2 of "Homeland," where things went way off the rails.