Shun Li and the Poet
Film Movement // Unrated // $24.95 // July 9, 2013
Review by Neil Lumbard | posted August 24, 2013
Highly Recommended
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Shun Li and the Poet DVD Review

Shun Li and the Poet
is a  more thoughtful and refreshing romantic film: it's a quietly paced and eloquently told effort. The story focuses on Shun Li (Tao Zhao), who worked in a textile factory at the film's beginning strides, but who moves from China to Italy with the help of a broker who managed to get her to come into Italy. She is now in debt, however,  and must find some way to repay the broker and also raise enough income to bring her son, who is living in China, to meet her in Italy and stay with her in what would be their new homeland.

As Shun Li begins working to pay back the debt she spends most of her time working in a bar where Italians would come and drink, gossip, and hang out with one another for a while. The fishermen of local areas would come to this bar and it was a place for friendship for so many, offering a solace from their workplace on the sea. Shun Li meets an older fisherman who is considered a poet, a nickname he holds, by the name of Bepi (Rade Serbedzija). He begins talking to her and it isn't long before the pair begin a close friendship with each other that continues to grow with each passing day.

Fellow fishermen begin to gossip about the two of them, and the time they've spent together. Before long, the broker insists to Shun Li that she can no longer see her friend Bepi; not if eventually reuniting with her son is something she wants. The friendship (and the growing romance) between Bepi and Shun Li is placed in a standstill. Can the two remain close if everyone else around them seems to want to see them apart? Cultural conflict and lack of understanding from those around them causes a pause. This is one of the major elements unfolded, and it unravels with an almost lyrically beautiful sense of filmmaking majesty.


Andre Segre has made an unquestionably beautiful film with this production. With the aid of cinematographer Luca Bigazzi, the film has some sweepingly lush photography of the water surrounding the small town around the Venetian Lagoon. It's a mesmerizing location for the filmmaking to unfold within.

The deliberately slow-build pacing is a strength aiding the effort by making it feel as quiet and intimate as good poetry can often be. And as these characters are explored with performances from actors Tao Zhao (Shun Li) and Rade Serbedzija ("the poet" Bepi), the film becomes an excellent example of how filmmaking can ultimately remind one of the beauty in poetry as a storytelling method as both of the fine performances delivered by these actors aids greatly to enhancing the film's essentially fundamental mood, flow, and inherent qualities: the film is successfully told with an elegance that makes it one of the best independent efforts today.

The film even managed to win some awards (in addition to some of its accolades critically).  Perhaps most tellingly was the Best Actress Award win, which was received by Tao Zhao, during the Italian Academy Awards. The film was also the winner of a  'Best First Feature', delivered from the London BFI Film Festival. This film is exquisite: a marvelous debut showcasing a rising talent from director Andre Segre. It's a gem of a film with quiet and charming intentions as the story unfolds in exploring cross-cultural connections and the circumstances surrounding the growing issue of migration.

The fact that Shun Li and the Poet handles such interesting, important, and notable themes while also being a romantic, heartfelt, and so determinedly beautiful effort, as lush at times as a fine-art painting can be, makes it a wonderful success, through and through.


The DVD:


Shun Li and the Poet is presented on by Film Movement with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer which preserves the original theatrical exhibition ratio. The DVD PQ is superb from a technical standpoint as it delivers crisp imagery with the clean photography. The colors are so beautifully rendered and richly exquisite. This is a gorgeous looking film and the DVD does a solid job presenting it in a notably impressive way.  


The 2.0 and 5.1 surround sound audio tracks do a good job of presenting the minimalistic audio design, which only occasionally sounds expansive for music and slight ambiance. The dialogue remains the main focus of the film and it is sparingly utilized at times as well. But when it does become utilized the audio is crisp, clear, and easy enough to understand. The surround option is going to be more enveloping, but both options present a decent sound presentation.


The main supplement on this release is the monthly short film selected by Film Movement to accompany the main feature release. The piece for the month is entitled Shanghai Love Market and it is from director Craig Rosenthal. This selection is actually a bit of a satire-style comedic short about a mother determined to find her son a wife from a famous "People's" park-place, one where people offer interviews and information for the single people of the area looking for a potential mate. It's actually a goofy and somewhat oddly created short, which might sound unsurprising given the concept, but it does have some interesting moments that are well-directed overall.

The release also includes brief biographies for the actors and director, and trailers for other Film Movement releases.

Final Thoughts:

Shun Li and the Poet is in many ways a truly poetic film. The pace, the atmosphere, and the quiet but profound characterizations make it a perfect fit for presenting this type of storytelling to an audience. The effort is well appreciated and it is worth seeking out for the beautiful directing, cinematography, and excellent performances from leads Tao Zhao and Rade Serbedzija.

Highly Recommended.

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