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Foreign Film - China - On The Beat

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On The Beat / Min jing gu shi
Li Jian, Li Zhanho
Written and directed by Ying Ning
Mandarin with English subtitles
China 1995
Facets Video 2009
102 minutes

On The Beat is more of a documentary than a foreign comedy though it is a film and not a documentary per se. The characters are played by non-actors and the two main characters are real beat policeman in Beijing. One reason I like foreign films is you get a totally different mindset. This is quite true of On The Beat, a cinema verite kind of thing. This is an interesting DVD even if the picture quality is that of a videoclub VHS with the occasional 2-3 seconds where there are various dust artifacts on the screen.

Rookie beat cop Wang Liangui is being trained by seven-year veteran Yang Guoli (Li Zhanho). In the opening minutes of On The Beat, Yang explains the situation and the neighborhood to the rookie. It is as if director Ying Ning knew On The Beat would have a foreign release as this presentation gives the audience an in to this totally different environment.

It is hard for a western audience to separate the movie from its documentary aspect. For example, is the scene where the women’s committee shows the index cards with the list of women on IUD, the pill, condoms, the unmarried ones etc. oddly funny or oppressive? Even three-card monte is done differently in China.

Although On The Beat bills itself as a comedy but is not really a comedy, there are some funny moments here. For example, a dog has been biting people and one of the cops, his mouth full of toothpaste froth says, “It better not be rabid!” The chain of command sequence is also quite funny to a western audience but I am not sure it was really meant to be.

On the Beat also features scenes where you see Yang Guoli at home with his wife and kids. This is pretty much cinema verite stuff as are the scenes involving the capture and questioning of small-time criminals.

If you like odd foreign film DVDs, On The Beat should fit the bill.

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