A low-budget, independent feature from China, Xiao Wu demonstrates that there's more to that country's cinema than lavish period melodramas.
Written and directed by Jia Zhang Ke, it focuses on a pickpocket (Wang Hong Wei) in the dusty provincial town of Fenyang. Time appears to be running out for this petty thief: his best friend has become a model businessman and is getting married, the police have announced a clamp-down on criminals, and Mei Mei, his favourite girl at the karaoke bar, has disappeared. That his family life is full of arguments doesn't help.
Xiao Wu is partly a socially realistic account of a society in thrall to materialistic and entrepreneurial values. Yet it's also a probing character study of an individual who undergoes a series of setbacks, which are destined to climax in public humiliation. The pacing of Xiao Wu may be relaxed, but the film's cumulative impact is palpable.