Monday, November 15, 2010

Oxhide II’s Dumplings A Family Recipe

Oxhide II

If your family happens to be like mine then most of the family gatherings occur around food. No matter how big the house may be, everyone always seems to find their way to the kitchen. The communal aspect that food provides is just as important in my family as the food that is actually being served. The importance of food and family is essential to understanding director Liu Jaiyin’s film Oxhide II.

Continuing her examination of her tight-knit family, first seen in Oxhide, Jiayin’s latest film highlights how the simple act of making dumplings for dinner is a communal act. Everyone takes turns helping to prepare different stages of the meal. Liu herself often struggles to master the techniques that her parents make look so easy. While the family works on the dumplings Liu's father ask the family for input on the issues surrounding his failing leatherwork business. Despite being in a cramped room, the simple act of making a meal together is a vital part of the family bonding experience.

While Oxhide II is an intimate look at the rituals that brings family together, it is also a bit of an endurance test. Unlike most films, that have numerous edits and camera angles, Oxhide II only features nine different shot. The entire film takes place around the workbench of Liu’s father. The camera is mounted in one position for a lengthy period of time until it is time to move to the next shot. Since the whole film only has nine different angles it leads to long sections of time where not much happens on screen. For example, there are moments where the only thing the audience sees is her father silently cutting meat. By only having nine shots in the film, there is a good portion of the film in which Liu and her family are not fully on screen. Depending on which angle that the camera is positioned, the audience can only see an arm here, a torso there, etc. While it is interesting from an artistic standpoint, it does become a bit annoying when trying to get a better understanding of what is occurring outside the frame. There are times when characters are preparing something in an area that is not fully in the camera’s view. As a result the audience never truly gets to immerse themselves in the process.

Regardless, Oxhide II is more about the intimate family interaction than it is a lesson in dumpling making. The majority of the humour in the film comes from the verbal back and forth when it comes to comparing who incorporates the best dumpling making techniques. In one amusing scene the parents debate how long to cut the chives. The father estimates it should be about four millimetres or so, yet when it is Liu’s turn to cut the chives she actual runs to get a ruler to ensure that her cuts are exact. Her need to be precise ends up slowing down the whole process.

Oxhide II is a film that has much to offer once you get past the lengthy takes between shots. Still, with only nine shots, the film will test your patience as much as it will build your appetite.

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