'Rainclouds': Unpredictable as the Weather

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Zhang Ming's intimate and stylish "Rainclouds Over Wushan" (1995) continues the UCLA Film Archive's ambitious and revealing New Chinese Cinema: Tales of Urban Delight, Alienation and the Margins.

With this insightful tale of two lonely people that may--or may not--blossom into a love story, Zhang keeps us guessing right up to the end whether romance is a possibility. Mai Qiang (Zhang Xianmin) is a 30-year-old man of solitary nature who operates a lighthouse perched over a river. In an adjacent village, soon to be submerged amid the construction of the Yangtze Gorge Dam, a young widow, Chen Qing (Zhong Ping), with a small son, has come to a decision: to break off her relationship with her boss, the manager of a small tourist hotel where she works as a desk clerk, and agree to an arranged marriage.

Mai and Chen cross paths, but the circumstances seem to spell mutual disaster rather than something else.

Screening tonight at 7:30 in Melnitz Hall's James Bridges Theater, "Rainclouds" will be followed by Tang Danian's "City Paradise," in which Beijing emerges as a treacherous magnet for some rural villagers.

"Xiao Wu" (1997), the first feature from Jia Zhangke, whose epic "Platform" opened the series at UCLA, screens Saturday at 7:30 p.m.--and confirms Jia as a major new talent in world cinema. As in "Platform," Jia reveals a gift for holding a shot and creating the sense that life is unfolding before our eyes. As in Zhang's film, change hangs over the fate of Jia's protagonist, Xiao Wu (Wang Hongwei), a young pickpocket operating in the bleak provincial town of Fengyang (the director's hometown). After his lifelong pal goes legit, Xiao faces a crackdown on street crime. The way in which Xiao confronts wrenching changes has earned Jia an apt comparison with the late Robert Bresson, who happened to make a 1959 film called "Pickpocket." "Xiao Wu" will be followed by Wang Xiaoshuai's heralded--despite being re-cut to satisfy censors--"So Close to Paradise" (1998), about a couple of unsophisticated guys caught up in treacherous urban noir. Information: (310) 206-FILM.

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Karen Black parlayed a small role in "Easy Rider" into a career-making turn in "Five Easy Pieces," but instead of becoming a conventional movie star she became a constantly working actress of versatility and professionalism. Some of the movies haven't been distributed theatrically in this country, but Black keeps evolving. Kerry Feltham's "Karen Black: Actress at Work," which the American Cinematheque screens tonight at 9:30 in the Lloyd E. Rigler theater at the Egyptian, with Feltham holding a discussion on stage with Black afterward, is a long overdue tribute. In a mere 57 minutes, Feltham follows Black through her appearances in seven pictures, notably George Hickenlooper's "Dogtown" and Lynn Hershman Leeson's "Conceiving Ada," in locations ranging from San Francisco to London to Merida, Mexico. Black emerges as the model of concentration and discipline. We see her play everything from a drugged-out cult leader to a decayed English grande dame to a poor Southern mother. Black may be driven, yet she retains a sense of humor and perspective.

Information: (323) 466-FILM.

Screening Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Cinematheque's 2nd Great Big 70mm Festival is "Nights and Days" (1975), a splendid two-part, 4 1/2-hour, Oscar-nominated Polish epic, spanning 1863 to the outbreak of World War I. Jadwiga Baranska and Jerzy Binczycki are outstanding as a couple through whose marriage and children we see the history of Poland unfolding during an era of struggle. A triumph of traditional screen narrative directed by Jerzy Antczak from the Maria Dobrowska novel.

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Among the three classic Buddhist films from Korea that LACMA is screening tonight and tomorrow is Im Kwon-Taek's outstanding "Come, Come, Come Upward" (screening Saturday at 7:30 p.m.), which takes the stuff of melodrama and transmutes it into an epic-scale, deeply moving account of the spiritual odyssey of a young woman (the exquisite Kang Soo-yeon). Bing Theater, LACMA, 5905 Wilshire Blvd., L.A. Information: (323) 857-6010.

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Thursday Vamps continues tonight at 8 at the Silent Movie with "Camille" (1921), in which the formidable Alla Nazimova is over the top as the tubercular heroine and which also fails to tap Rudolph Valentino's powerful sensuality and magnetism as Armand--but which has knockout proto-Art Deco sets by Valentino's wife, Natacha Rambova. Silent Movie is at 611 N. Fairfax Ave., L.A. Information: (323) 655-2520.

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More promising are two Italian silent rarities screening Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: "Assunta Spina" (1915), with Francesa Bertini, and "Malombra" (1917), with Lyda Borelli. AMPAS' screening room is at 8949 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. Information: (310) 247-3600.

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Shaya Mercer's illuminating "Trade Off" concludes the Laemmle Theaters' Documentary Days series. The film deftly brings into clear relief the serious issues, obscured in the ensuing chaos, raised by protesters at last year's World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle. The vandalism on the part of the few and the lack of preparedness on the part of the police department, which was quick to resort to rubber bullets and pepper spray, deflected attention from the overall demand by protesters for accountability on the part of the WTO.

A legion of informed and articulate protesters expressed reasonable fears of the fallout from globalization, ranging from widespread loss of jobs to the potential dangers of unregulated genetic engineering. Mercer and her fearless crew covered the gathering storm from the inside and reveal a very wide range of individuals expressing concern for human rights and a secure environment in the face of corporate self-interest. "Trade Off" screens Saturday and Sunday at 10 a.m. at the Sunset 5, 8000 Sunset Blvd. and Dec. 16 and 17 at 11 a.m. at the Monica 4-Plex, 1332 2nd St., Santa Monica. For Sunset 5 information: (323) 848-3500; Monica 4-Plex, (310) 394-9741.

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Opening a regular run Friday at the Monica 4-Plex is "Achilles' Love," an amiable but far too sluggish romantic comedy. Claudia Besso, as the general manager of a failing dance company, and Mather Zickel, as an insurance salesman being double-crossed by his boss, are the film's likable leads.

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