Starring: Geng Yanbo, Suying Ma, Fu Li
Director: Zhou Hao
Running Time: 89 mins
The Chinese Mayor is a Chinese documentary about Geng Yanbo, mayor of provincial city Datong, who aims to reconstruct the derelict and polluted metropolis into a great cultural city, but his methods prove controversial.
Although it isn’t the world’s most pulsating and energetic documentary, The Chinese Mayor is quite an amazing insight into the inner workings of the Chinese government, as well as powerful comment on how the country’s rapid development is having deep impacts on its population, making for a very interesting watch throughout.
Of course, that sort of a story doesn’t need a rapid-fire and brash style to be so interesting, and in fact, the film’s deliberately bleak and quiet atmosphere works well to create somewhat of a sense of unease around all of the main players. While we see Mayor Geng going about his business and trying to bring new life to the city of Datong, there’s always that niggling feeling that things aren’t quite so settled, and that his plans could be brought to a halt at any moment, something that I found absolutely riveting.
What’s most interesting about the film, however, is how it portrays the workings of the Chinese government from the middle level. We all know about the highest officials holding great power over the entire country, but being given such an in-depth insight into how a party member quite a lot lower down the ladder carries out those policies and ideas in real life.
And while things may seem to be going swimmingly when presented to the Party, the level of opposition and tension created by the construction work in and around the city is really surprising to see, something that you won’t often hear anything about coming from China.
The way in which our main character, Mayor Geng, is portrayed, is also particularly interesting. On the one hand, you can see him as a government official who’s carrying out the party line and pushing against many citizens’ complaints, but on the other, there’s a very palpable human side to him that shows just how much he cares about his project and the people he’s serving, with a clear desire to make his city a genuinely better place.
That side of the story proves particularly powerful when it comes to the last act, and the intensity of top-level government in China is revealed, as Geng’s situation, and as a result the entire city of Datong’s situation, is completely overturned in the blink of an eye.
As I said, however, while it is fascinating from a political point of view, there are elements of The Chinese Mayor that aren’t quite as cinematically thrilling. Above all, it is a rather slow and quiet film, and although that does give you the opportunity to immerse yourself at ground level with the politicians and the citizens, it doesn’t always have a pulsating subtext to make the film a more intense or powerful watch. It has some impressively hard-hitting political insights, but I felt that more could have been done to really pull at my heartstrings with regards to the situation.
Overall, I was intrigued by The Chinese Mayor. Although not a thrilling documentary, it is one that offers a unique and amazingly in-depth insight into a topic that you’d be hard pressed to find anything so detailed about, all the while bringing a riveting portrayal of how people get caught up in the middle of rapid development and heavy government, which is why I’m giving it a 7.4.