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“Dam Street” – A Chinese Version Of Oedipus Legend

Posted on: June 30, 2014

Cover of "Dam Street"

Cover of Dam Street

Yesterday my friend Marty (aka “nothingprofound”) recommend me a Chinese movie Dam Street (红颜,literally translation: Rouge Face). He claimed that it was very different from other Chinese movies he had watched. I could not wait, found a streaming video online and watched it right away. After watching it I asked Marty what’s the difference. He said that this movie “seemed to be more personal and universal at the same time”. I feel exactly the same way.

As a Chinese American who lived in China for the first 30 years of my life, I feel the same way as my American friend who never lived in China, interesting, isn’t it? I cannot speak for other Chinese people, but for me, this is the only Chinese movie I have ever seen that I would describe as “honest”. From the beginning to the end, there’s nothing pretentious, nothing were hidden or added for any different purposes from the needs of story line.

The story takes place in my hometown Sichuan province, the main character of this movie is about the same age as me, almost the same name as well (except Yun is not my legal name), so both geographic and cultural background are all familiar to me personally. Further more, the movie was shot in Sichuan dialect (or Sichuanese), which made it sounds more genuine to me than those made in Mandarins (maybe this is personal judgment, that I always feel the mandarin has “phoniest” accent among all Chinese dialects). The geographic environment is in some small town in Sichuan province, shabby and dirty. To my “horror”, first time I saw “traditional” Chinese public restroom on screen (even just one shot, the “horror” cannot be missed). The brutal scene of killing of eels for meal brought me back to those days of my early life. The genuine touch on sexual life is refreshing, especially the boy’s sexual fantasy, which was, and still is a “taboo” in Chinese culture.

Of course, all these details are not as important as the story itself. It is about a teenager girl who gets pregnant when she is 16, and since then her fate is somehow “defined”, not by herself, but by unseen fate. The story reminds me classic legend of Oedipus, the one from ancient Greece. How interesting it is, that we humans with such different cultures always embark the same voyage in this giant ocean of human life, from time to time, places to places.

This movie premiere was in Venice, won several awards which were not so recognizable. Not sure it’s ever screened in China (I talked to my nephew in China and he said he never heard of it). Of course, this is not a surprising treat for a movie without famous actors and actresses, or famous director. However, I am profoundly moved by this movie, and I hope it continues striving for recognition. I also hope the director Li Yu will continue making movies like this, provide the world more truthful images of “modern” China.

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2 Responses to "“Dam Street” – A Chinese Version Of Oedipus Legend"

Hi Yun Yi,
I hope you are well and happy. I’ll look for this movie and think of you and Marty too when I watch it. Best wishes always.

TT, so glad to see you! Marty and I talked about you too another day and we miss you very very much!
Yes, watch this movie when you can. You can order DVD from netflix.
Take good care!
Yun

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