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Capturing the Spirit of People, Not Politics

LI Shaohong is a member of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers - a name given to the first class that graduated from the Beijing Film Academy after the Cultural Revolution that disrupted Chinese life during Mao Zedong's rule. Other internationally known members include Chen Kaige and Tian Zhuangzhuang as well as Zhang Yimou and Sun Zhou, although Mr. Sun lives in Guangzhou, which he feels is a more easygoing city than the capital.

Sun agrees with Ms. Li that restrictions have recently eased in Chinese filmmaking. Still, he told me through an interpreter at the Montreal filmfest, "I don't think it's clever for a filmmaker in China to go against what the government thinks is a critical point. I try to approach the lives of ordinary people instead of subjects that are very political or sensitive."

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This doesn't mean his films are escapist or irrelevant, however. "Heartstrings" demonstrates this by portraying the impact of traditional culture on contemporary Chinese life.

"Ordinary people don't believe in socialism or Marxism or that kind of orthodoxy," the filmmaker says. "They believe in Buddhism and traditional things they can trust."

Sun's interest in this has contributed to skirmishes with the authorities, who have turned down a number of projects he has proposed. He says "Heartstrings" causes discomfort because it recommends "holding onto your faith and your traditions" when trouble strikes, rather than "using your strong will and fighting against what's wrong" in the kind of group struggle that official ideology favors. "China is so big," Sun says, "and there are so many poor people who suffer a lot - not from the government, but from natural disasters....They only trust God, but they sincerely trust that...."

Sun feels his filmmaking is influenced by traditional culture, including Buddhism, as are his personal views. "I learned a lot from Buddhism," he says. "We are taught that no matter what difficulties you run into and how severe life is, you must always approach your problems with a quiet mind. Even the title of `Heartstrings' is from Buddhist culture. It's quiet. Like a poem."

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