The VCinema Diaries: 'Beijing Bastards'
Part II of John Berra's Beijing odyssey

'To coincide with the publication of World Film Locations: Beijing from Intellect Books, co-editor John Berra reviews six Beijing-set films to illustrate how China’s ever-changing capital city has inspired commercial and independent filmmakers alike, from the 1990s to today.

In the early-1990s, rock music became emblematic of China’s burgeoning sub-culture, with Beijing serving as the epicentre of the scene. Bands and solo artists imitated the fashion and lifestyle staples of their Western role models (clothing, hairstyles, drug use, attitude that fused studied nonchalance with rebellious swagger) as a means of taking a stand against the repressive political regime, or to simply achieve some measure of cultural notoriety. Performing was a political act, as most concerts took place without the required permit, and song lyrics were considered to be controversial due to their ambiguity. Today, rock music is a part of the mainstream, with the image of the movement integrated into the marketing formula of major labels and de-radicalised as a result of commercial concession. Success remains hard to come by for bands that remain steadfastly independent, with Beijing-based alternative rockers Carsick Cars, arguably the figureheads of the current underground scene, largely surviving by selling T-shirts at their gigs. Zhang Yuan’s second feature Beijing Bastards captures a time when such a band could not even scrape by on profits from their merchandise stall, as venues would be closed at a moment’s notice due to police intervention, or demolished almost overnight as part of the city’s extensive urban regeneration scheme. Zhang co-wrote the screenplay for Beijing Bastards with the rock star Cui Jian, who also co-produced the film in addition to playing himself, and shot without official permission on a budget provided in part by the Hub Bals Fund in Rotterdam.'

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