Review of “The Panda Candy”


Chun Sue (left) and Taki Zhang in The Panda Candy

The Panda Candy is a quirky, unconventional film from

Chinese musician/painter/filmmaker Peng Lei. Shot in a pseudo-documentary style

with non-professional actors, the piece is certainly different, though

audiences may disagree strongly on whether this is a good or a bad thing.

The story —

such as it is — follows the adventures of two young women, played by Chun Sue

(who penned the story that inspired the film) and Taki Zhang.


character is a lesbian who floats around with the rock band New Pants (of which

Peng Lei is the front man), dating all of the girls she meets as the band tours

across China.

The other woman, Chun, is more interested in guys, dating a string of men until

she meets her apparent soul mate in Taki.

Instead of

presenting a traditional narrative of the beginning-middle-end sort, Lei has

instead opted for a sort of loose cyclical structure.

The film opens

on the presumed end, and after a brief scene, we’re whisked away to the

beginning, which has Taki explaining her roadie lifestyle and love of the

ladies. Meanwhile, Chun’s off meeting young guys all around Beijing, with no apparent motivation other

than curiosity – with a dash of lust.

The film plays

out in a collection of scenes that have our characters meeting their various

lovers, speaking with them about life and love, and occasionally having sex.

There’s never

any real explanation of the events; the audience is simply asked to spend some

time with these characters as they live their carefree lives.

As such, it’s a

hazy, low-key and often fun portrait of life as a young roadie/drifter in

modern China.

Anyone expecting a traditional story will be sorely disappointed, but audience

members who are on board for 85 minutes of hanging out, flitting around Beijing, and making love

will appreciate the change of pace.

But there’s also

something deeper at work here — even if Lei didn’t set out with that in mind.

Considering the

cultural shift occurring in the People’s Republic these days, the film is a

quiet, almost accidental testament to social change. While the words

"lesbian" or "queer" never appear anywhere in the film, the

movie is implicitly about the younger generation’s greater acceptance – or at

least, comfort with — queer people and lesbians in particular.

Taki’s various

encounters with women are casual and fun. She seems to meet a new lady at each

and every performance, creating a track record that would put Shane McCutcheon

to shame. With bright eyes and an even brighter personality, she seems to smile

her way into the hearts of her lovers.

Many of her

encounters begin with a conversation about sexuality. Without ever explicitly

defining herself, Taki interviews her paramours with a shy grin before getting

them into bed. In fact, one of the most refreshing elements of the film is the way it portrays lesbian

sexuality in such a natural, non-exploitative light. Though most of the

dialogue is conversational and easygoing, Taki and her lovers make more than a

few interesting observations about the bonds between women.

But Panda Candy’s ambivalence about the

permanence and seriousness of the lesbian identity is troubling.

Even Peng Lei,

in his director’s statement, seems to consider lesbian relationships something

of a curiosity. He admits that he didn’t take lesbian relationships "for

serious" until he made this film, though he later states: "what I’m

sure of is that the girl-girl love is purely true and beautiful [and] deserves

everybody [‘s] and the whole society’s respect".

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