In Li Yang's debut film Blind Shaft, two miners murder one of their associates, claim he's their brother, and then collect a payoff from the mine manager. In Li's follow-up Blind Mountain, 22-year-old college graduate Huang Lu follows a seemingly gracious young pair of businessfolk into the country, where she's been promised a good job. But when she arrives, she's drugged and sold to a local farmer to be his wife. When she resists, she's chained, beaten, and raped. When she asks the nearby villagers for help, they shrug her off, because there's no money in being a Good Samaritan.
For the second film in a row, Li excoriates the values of an increasingly market-driven China, where people treat their fellows as products to be exploited, and scramble to get an edge on their "competitors." Both Blind Shaft and Blind Mountain are blunt and raw, distinguished by the immediacy of their hand-held camerawork and by screenplays that don't truck with narrative ambiguity. The viewer isn't asked to fill in any gaps; anyone who doesn't know what's going on in these films must've fallen asleep. And given how arresting the action is in both, nodding off is highly unlikely.
But there are some slight differences between Blind Shaft and Blind Mountain, which make the first film very good and the second a well-meaning misfire. While Blind Shaft owes a debt to the noir sensibility of Billy Wilder and Sam Fuller—where straight talk is a virtue—Blind Mountain is more in the hyperbolic-melodrama vein of Douglas Sirk, with lusher colors and heroically suffering souls. In the latter context, having every character spout exposition all the time makes less sense. Blind Mountain isn't just a wallow in human misery; it's a wallow that reminds us with every line of dialogue that we're wallowing. Li's documenting a real problem in his homeland by painting in broad strokes of light and dark, but Blind Mountain would be better-served by more touches of universality, as in the scene where a neighbor woman comforts Huang by saying, "All women go through this." That scene flirts with metaphor. The rest of the film too often descends into harangue.