Art cannot be consumed as it is. Context plays an important role in understanding and appreciating a form of art. Regarding Oxhide and its sequel, Oxhide II, I have to say that my cultural proximity with Chinese families enabled me to understand the movies.
It wasn’t only about making dumplings for dinner or appropriating Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels in Chinese culture, really. The genius of Oxhide II must be understood on multilayered contexts: 1) That the Chinese take their meals seriously, 2) That food is not only for carnal necessity but also important for social bonding be it through the preparation or the consumption, and 3) That Chinese food, despite its complexity, interestingly is seen as a cheaper version of food bought on the sidewalk.
Adding that to the complex relationship between parents and children in the Chinese community, Oxhide II won me over. It might be lost in translation, but the scolding of children is common here, in this case, Beibei as the daughter. But she’s not portrayed as a submissive daughter. She advises her father on his business. She reacts when being critiqued for the shapes of the dumplings she makes.
And as it slowly fades into the ending, it fulfills its promise until it has become your comfort zone.
Ultimately, for a fan of hyperrealism, this pseudo documentary is just as perfect as it is. They act the way we expect people to act in real lives: no sensationalization. But it’s also funny in a way that Jeanne Dielman makes you anxious. In Jeanne Dielman, you feel your heart palpitating at the thought of overcooked potatoes. In Oxhide II, I laughed my asses off when Beibei brings a ruler in to measure the chives (4 mm exact) before cutting them. It lulls you into safety, makes you think that this is good, nothing bad will happen, and hence every single stimulus would feel like a punchline. And as it slowly fades into the ending, it fulfills its promise until it has become your comfort zone.
Oxhide II (2009) is a Documentary film directed by Liu Jiayin as a direct sequel to that from 2005. The film screened at Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes Film Festival 2009 along with Locarno International Film Festival, International Film Festival Rotterdam, San Sebastián International Film Festival, Buenos Aires Festival Internacional de Cine Independiente, and Vancouver International Film Festival.
Jakarta Cinema Club, Cover photo by Buenosia Carol
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