Reviews

Candy by Mian Mian

Chris Gage

A rock 'n' roll drug addict love story that was banned by the government four months after it was first published but soon pirated versions appeared on the street and flourished.


Candy

Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Length: 288
Price: $13.95 (US)
Author: Mian Mian
US publication date: 2003-07
Amazon
Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.
— Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion and Death

For as much as Americans love bootlegged music and movies, not many novels here get sold on street corners or swapped over the Internet. It's a shame, because it says something about our country and where art stands in it. And we bootleg them for the wrong reasons anyway: to save money, not to hear an unexpected point of view or a caustic take on authority. But it doesn't really matter, because here if a book about hacking the Xbox or one on our president the Fortunate Son is too hot for a mainstream publisher, someone else will always pick it up, either to capitalize on the notoriety or just to be a thorn in someone's side.

In America, downloaded or otherwise pirated music, software, and movies are bought because it's cheaper than paying for the real thing. In China, it's the only way to get the product. Mian Mian's novel Candy, a rock-and-roll drug addict love story, was banned by the government four months after it was first published but soon pirated versions (I've read there are up to eight different ones) appeared on the street and flourished.

Candy is the deeply personal story of Hong, a confused, passionate, and muddled Chinese girl who breaks away from her staid upbringing and alternates between hanging out in Shanghai and Shenzen, which the translator's note says is a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). Being a SEZ, there has been a considerable "relaxation of state control and the relative freedom soon created a frontier mentality, and many forms of vice and corruption came to flourish alongside more legitimate private enterprises." This explains why there are few cultural references to Chinese authority and Communism in the book. It very nearly could be any city where teenagers get stoned, dance till the morning, sleep with just-met strangers, and complain how there is nothing to do and that their city is dying, or even dead already. But of course, it's not anywhere -- it's China.

Soon Hong and her boyfriend, a musician named Saining, are smack addicts living among prostitutes and thieves, and Hong is fighting to stay in love with him, as he drifts away from her. At heart, Candy is an optimistic and emotionally told love story, though it's easy to see it only as a depraved tale of loners and trash. Looking deeper, it becomes clear, however, that Hong is no saint among sinners, and with the wasted debris of misspent lives swirling around her, this contradiction emerges the book's strength. In a touching metaphor for the confusion Hong faces, the author writes:

I asked a Spaniard and a Hungarian to speak to me in their native languages at the same time, one in each ear. I said, "You can say anything you want, but just start talking!" Heads gracefully extended, and with serious expressions on their faces, they began speaking unbroken streams of words. One on my left, and one on my right."

Mian Mian's writing is Kerouac, Selby, and Ballard. She creates as if she were constructing a collage. At times it's narrative and forward, as the narrator gives short sketches of the prostitutes in the hotel she's staying at. At other times, it's staccato and manic, making leaps in logic that are hauntingly disjointed. When her lover Saining returns to her, she writes, "I reflected ruefully and Valentine's Day and I weren't meant for each other. But I could still secretly imagine all sorts of things. Men treated me like shit; I couldn't think of myself as a piece of shit, though. I imagined an airplane parked in front of my house, and a man disembarked and said he would be a good friend to me, a lover." Briefly, toward the end, we are given a series of startlingly poetic Russell Edson-like paragraphs, more beautiful than even our narrator's own youthful romanticism and love.

Mian Mian has a style that is disjointed and disruptive, but which pierces to the center of the personal. She writes with the best of the confessionals, taking a simple story and infusing it with layers of perspective and points of view. It's like a Chuck Close mosaic portrait: if you zero in, you see the gorgeous singular objects, each whole and sustainable, and when you pull back a distance, you perceive the amazing way the objects interlock.

The author's spell breaks a little, however, when she becomes too self-aware and talks about literary fame in China, calling it "a crock of shit! Other people pick out the most searing elements . . . and turn them into badges. Then they pin them on their own crap, and it makes them rich and famous."

We can only hope that the spirited storyteller was not concerning herself with how her writing would be appropriated by others, to be funneled back out as a weaker and fraudulent concoction, when she wrote Candy. The book rings true, but this brief passage suggests too much consciousness and shock for shock, like a gratuitously violent Oliver Stone movie. I can only think Mian Mian did not succumb to this because of the so-little money had from doing so: ". . . the most you could make from a story was a thousand yuan, and after a book came out, it was only good for a few thousand more because it would soon be pirated."

While Candy is about coming to terms and dealing with personal freedom, the fact that it's set in powerfully oppressive China -- where each sex act described, every swear hurled, every mention of AIDS carries extra weight -- makes you mindful that it's also about political freedom. Western mores, music, movies, and drugs have found their way into the world of a person like Hong, and how she and the other characters handle this heady mix makes for a story that is atrocious, naïve, daring and wonderful. It's the old cliché -- a kid in a candy store -- writ large and loud, with brash observations and a lush and effective pastiche of styles.

Music

The Best Metal of 2017

Painting by Mariusz Lewandowski. Cover of Bell Witch's Mirror Reaper.

There's common ground between all 20 metal albums despite musical differences: the ability to provide a cathartic release for the creator and the consumer alike, right when we need it most.

With global anxiety at unprecedented high levels it is important to try and maintain some personal equilibrium. Thankfully, metal, like a spiritual belief, can prove grounding. To outsiders, metal has always been known for its escapism and fantastical elements; but as most fans will tell you, metal is equally attuned to the concerns of the world and the internal struggles we face and has never shied away from holding a mirror up to man's inhumanity.

Keep reading... Show less

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

Two recently translated works -- Lydie Salvayre's Cry, Mother Spain and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- bring to life the profound complexity of an early struggle against fascism, the Spanish Civil War.

There are several ways to write about the Spanish Civil War, that sorry three-year prelude to World War II which saw a struggling leftist democracy challenged and ultimately defeated by a fascist military coup.

Keep reading... Show less
8

Beware the seemingly merry shades of green and red that spread so slowly and thickly across the holiday season, for something dark and uncertain, something that takes many forms, stirs beneath the joyful facade.

Let's be honest -- not everyone feels merry at this time of year. Psychologists say depression looms large around the holidays and one way to deal with it is cathartically. Thus, we submit that scary movies can be even more salutary at Christmas than at Halloween. So, Merry Christmas. Ho ho ho wa ha ha!

1. The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932)

Between Frankenstein (1931) and The Invisible Man (1933), director James Whale made this over-the-top lark of a dark and stormy night with stranded travelers and a crazy family. In a wordless performance, Boris Karloff headlines as the deformed butler who inspired The Addams Family's Lurch. Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, Gloria Stuart, Melvyn Douglas and Ernest Thesiger are among those so vividly present, and Whale has a ball directing them through a series of funny, stylish scenes. This new Cohen edition provides the extras from Kino's old disc, including commentaries by Stuart and Whale biographer James Curtis. The astounding 4K restoration of sound and image blows previous editions away. There's now zero hiss on the soundtrack, all the better to hear Massey starting things off with the first line of dialogue: "Hell!"

(Available from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

2. The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

Two mermaid sisters (Marta Mazurek, Michalina Olszanska) can summon legs at will to mingle on shore with the band at a Polish disco, where their siren act is a hit. In this dark reinvention of Hans Christian Andersen's already dark The Little Mermaid, one love-struck sister is tempted to sacrifice her fishy nature for human mortality while her sister indulges moments of bloodlust. Abetted by writer Robert Bolesto and twin sister-musicians Barbara and Zuzanna Wronska, director Agnieszka Smoczynska offers a woman's POV on the fairy tale crossed with her glittery childhood memories of '80s Poland. The result: a bizarre, funy, intuitive genre mash-up with plenty of songs. This Criterion disc offers a making-of and two short films by Smoczynska, also on musical subjects.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Read PopMatters review here.)

3. Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016)

In the category of movies that don't explain themselves in favor of leaving some of their mysteries intact, here's Olivier Assayas' follow-up to the luminous Clouds of Sils Maria. Kristen Stewart again plays a celebrity's lackey with a nominally glamorous, actually stupid job, and she's waiting for a sign from her dead twin brother. What about the ghostly presence of a stalker who sends provocative text messages to her phone? The story flows into passages of outright horror complete with ectoplasm, blood, and ooga-booga soundscapes, and finally settles for asking the questions of whether the "other world" is outside or inside us. Assayas has fashioned a slinky, sexy, perplexing ghost story wrapped around a young woman's desire for something more in her life. There's a Cannes press conference and a brief talk from Assayas on his influences and impulses.

(Available from Criterion Collection / Reader PopMatters review here.

4. The Ghoul (Gareth Tunley, 2016)

The hero (Tom Meeten) tells his therapist that in his dreams, some things are very detailed and others are vague. This movie tells you bluntly what it's up to: a Möbius strip narrative that loops back on itself , as attributed to the diabolical therapists for their cosmic purposes. Then we just wait for the hero to come full circle and commit the crime that, as a cop, he's supposedly investigating. But this doesn't tell us whether he's really an undercover cop pretending to be depressed, or really a depressive imagining he's a cop, so some existential mysteries will never be answered. It's that kind of movie, indebted to David Lynch and other purveyors of nightmarish unreality. Arrow's disc offers a making-of, a commentary from writer-director Gareth Tunley and Meeten along with a producer, and a short film from Tunley and Meeten.

(Available from Arrow Video)

​5. The Illustrated Man (Jack Smight, 1969)

When a young man goes skinny-dipping with a mysterious stranger (Rod Steiger) who's covered with tattoos, the pictures comes to life in a series of odd stories, all created by Ray Bradbury and featuring Steiger and Claire Bloom in multiple roles. Nobody was satisfied with this failure, and it remains condemned to not having reached its potential. So why does Warner Archive grace it with a Blu-ray? Because even its failure has workable elements, including Jerry Goldsmith's score and the cold neatness of the one scene people remember: "The Veldt", which combines primal child/parent hostilities (a common Bradbury theme) with early virtual reality. It answers the question of why the kids spend so much time in their room, and why they're hostile at being pulled away.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

6. The Hidden (Jack Sholder, 1987)


In one of my favorite action movies of the '80s, a post-Blue Velvet and pre-Twin Peaks Kyle MacLachlan plays an FBI agent who forms a buddy-cop bond with Michael Nouri while pursuing a perp -- a bodiless entity that plugs into the human id. In the midst of slam-bang action comes a pivotal moment when a startling question is asked: "How do you like being human?" The heart of the movie, rich in subtext, finds two men learning to embrace what's alien to them. In pop-culture evolution, this movie falls between Hal Clement's novel Needle and the TV series Alien Nation. On this Warner Archive Blu-ray, Sholder offers a commentary with colleague Tim Hunter.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

7. Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (David Lynch, 1992)

Speaking of Twin Peaks, here we have a textbook example of a movie that pleased almost nobody upon its release but has now generated such interest, thanks in large part to this year's Twin Peaks revival, that it arrives on Criterion. A feature-film prequel to David Lynch and Mark Frost's original TV serial that answered none of its questions and tossed in a raft of new ones, the film functions as one of cinema's most downbeat, disruptive and harsh depictions of a middle-class American teenage girl's social context. Sheryl Lee delivers a virtuoso performance that deserved the Oscar there was no way she'd be nominated for, and she wasn't. The extras, including a 90-minute film of deleted and alternate takes assembled by Lynch, have been available on previous sets.

(Available from Criterion Collection)

8. The Green Slime (Kinji Fukasaku, 1968)

Incredibly, Warner Archive upgrades its on-demand DVD of a groovy, brightly colored creature feature with this Blu-ray. As a clever reviewer indicated in this PopMatters review, what director Kinji Fukasaku saw as a Vietnam allegory functions more obviously as a manifestation of sexual tension between alpha-jock spacemen competing for the attention of a foxy female scientist, and this subconsciously creates an explosion of big green tentacled critters who overrun the space station. While we don't believe in "so bad it's good," this falls squarely into the category of things so unfacetiously absurd, they come out cool. There's a sublimely idiotic theme song.

(Available from Warner Bros.)

If the idea is that earth, water, fire, air and space constitute the core elements of life, then these five songs might seem as their equivalents to surviving the complications that come from embracing the good and enduring the ugly of the Christmas season.

Memory will never serve us well when it comes to Christmas and all its surrounding complications. Perhaps worse than the financial and familial pressures, the weather and the mad rush to consume and meet expectations, to exceed what happened the year before, are the floods of lists and pithy observations about Christmas music. We know our favorite carols and guilty pleasures ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "Silent Night"), the Vince Guaraldi Trio's music for 1965's A Charlie Brown Christmas that was transcendent then and (for some, anyway) has lost none of its power through the years, and we embrace the rock songs (The Kink's "Father Christmas", Greg Lake's "I Believe In Father Christmas", and The Pretenders' "2000 Miles".) We dismiss the creepy sexual predator nature in any rendition of "Baby, It's Cold Outside", the inanity of Alvin and the Chipmunks, and pop confections like "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus".

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image