|A scene from The Chinese Mayor.|
By Miranda Inganni
Geng Yanbo, the newly-elected mayor of Datong, China wants to transform the city into a tourist-attracting cultural center. Datong, the most polluted city in China, thanks to its coal mining history, has a massive ancient city wall that Geng envisions containing museums and meeting spaces. The problem is that at least 30 percent of the residents of Datong, many of them poor and their housing illegal, live around that city wall. These residents must be relocated and their dwellings demolished in order for Geng’s reconstruction of the city to take place.
Despite the fact that demolition and construction are very slow and behind schedule, the government wants the residents out. But there is no place for many of them to go. People who cannot afford to move are told that they can apply for low-rent housing, but they know the reality is that there is a long waiting period. Some residents protest by simply not leaving their abodes or by blocking the heavy machinery. A few residents who refuse to move face forcible demolition and threaten suicide.
We follow Geng, in Zhou Hao’s The Chinese Mayor, as he inspects the progress of destruction and construction throughout the city, as he attends meetings in his official capacity, and as he is scolded by his wife who thinks he is working himself to death. He appears tough when he deals with contractors who have put in sub-par paving, taken other shortcuts or are not performing their jobs to his satisfaction. But when the affected residents appeal directly to Geng, he is sympathetic and tries to right the wrongs -- helping folks find housing, ensuring the children of rural residents who gave up their farmland for development have access to the city schools, and even trying to move a woman from her 6th floor apartment to one on the ground floor as she can no longer walk up the stairs (what the hell happened to the elevator anyway?).
Geng wants to leave the reinvented and revitalized Datong as his legacy. Will he be able to oversee all of the construction through to completion before his mayoral term is up? Is he simply a megalomaniac bankrupting a city for his own status? Director Zhou does a masterful job of not getting in the way of the story. Clearly the residents are the one’s suffering in this scenario, but Geng is not without sympathetic sensibilities. He believes so strongly in “cultural industry” that even if he cannot bring his vision to fruition in Datong, the viewer gets the sense that that will not stop him. He will give this city, or any other, his masterful cultural makeover. Even if it kill him.
The Chinese Mayor screens at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival April 26, 4 p.m., CGV Cinemas. For more information: Mayor.