Sunday Editor’s Pick: “Disorder” (2009)

by on May 22, 2011Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Sun May 22 6:30 & 8:00 at Anthology Film Archives [Program & Tix]


Hua Hsu for The Atlantic:

Disorder is simply a gripping, stirring, occasionally shocking experience. Part of this is due to [director Huang] Weikai’s playful juxtapositions: Men jostling with a pig, trying in vain to coax it back into a truck; panicking policemen, quelling a contextless near-riot, shoving someone’s mother into a wagon; a shirtless, unhinged man crossing a busy intersection, only he has nowhere to go; another shirtless man, armed with grievances, disarmingly lucid about why he is perched on the railing of a bridge. These are all unrelated scenes, captured by unrelated cameras. But mostly, the power of Disorder rests in the associations we draw from Weikai’s raw materials, the narratives we surmise, the moments that are savagely funny or miserably sad, if that’s what you want them to be.



Chris Chang at Film Comment:

In interviews, Huang has speculated that the concept of “disorder” might vary according to ethnicity. Is there a form of chaos that is distinctly Chinese? Apparently yes, and his film both documents and embodies it. Grainy black-and-white footage, captured by amateur on-the-scene videographers, has been spliced together to create a nonstop portrait of a metropolis gone berserk—a city symphony from hell.
Disorder begins with an image of a geyser unleashed from a broken hydrant. Cut to a man, lying in the street, the victim of a traffic accident. Are the actions related? No clue. People gathering to help the injured party are clearly unnerved by the presence of the camera—one of the film’s recurring panoptic motifs. As they try to aid the fallen man, they accuse him of “faking it” and offer him hush money. A scene of a panicky mob in a supermarket follows shortly; and then, unexpectedly, a close-up of udon noodles. Chopsticks reveal a dead cockroach, and the utensils are then used to resubmerge the bug. That’s one of the many moments of perverse levity—but the film’s general mayhem proceeds inexorably.

Theatrical tralier:


More from Film Comment courtesy of Michael Chaiken (sixth capsule down):

Huang inaugurates a new genre: the City Cacophony Film. Taking Canton as his subject, he explodes the Romantic lyricism of Ruttmann and Cavalcanti into oblique shards as China’s third largest city, polarized by tradition and globalization, becomes a study in existential absurdity. A patchwork of amateur footage offers a berserk, scattershot glimpse into the public and private spheres of this modern metropolis. A distant cousin of Godard’s Weekend, shot through with Keystone Kops, discontented citizens, and a renegade pig, Disorder is an original, terrifying portrait of a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Ray Pride at Moving Image Source (sixth capsule from the bottom):

Huang Weikai’s 58-minute Disorder, featured at Hot Docs 2010, is a black-and-white shot-on-video portrait of urban Guangzhou, but it’s also a sustained fury of delirium. Tossed into a maelstrom of deracinated images from Huang’s native province, we’re left adrift and agog at brief scenes of traffic jams, floods, accidents, police violence, fools winding through lanes of heavy traffic, and so many, many farm animals gone astray. Programmer Sean Farnel has gone beyond considering Disorder a “city symphony,” merely saying it’s set in “Chris Marker-ville,” and Huang’s film is indeed an act of sustained bricolage, essaying contemporary China through a reported 1,000 hours of footage from amateur shooters, creating an eruptive, hallucinatory landscape, resisting narrative, that is both tactile and otherworldly. It may be the first great film of the 22nd century.



Leo Goldsmith at MUBI compares the film to Sheeler and Strand’s Manhatta (eighth capsule from bottom):

Coming nearly a century later, Disorder offers a smudged and grainy reflection of Manhatta’s heroic “city of tall façades of marble and iron.” Where Sheeler and Strand’s ode heralds the machinic, modern synchrony of Whitman’s “proud and passionate city,” Huang Weikai’s gritty digital collage punks the dysfunction of Guangzhou in shaky cameraphone fragments. Drawing on 1000 hours of footage from a dozen different videographers, Huang assembles a crowd-sourced, multi-angle view of the chaos of post-socialist China: pigs run wild on the highways and desperate con-men throw themselves under cars; water floods the streets and fires rage through buildings; a routine arrest devolves into a civilian riot and a raid on an illegal bearpaw and anteater dispensary; babies are found discarded in trash heaps, cockroaches in bowls of soup, and crocodiles in the Pearl River.


Benny Shaffer at Leap, whose article also considers Huang’s earlier work and place within contemporary Chinese documentary filmmaking:

As Huang’s concept for the film developed further, he decided to compose a kind of city symphony to string together the countless stories contained in the DV tapes of Guangzhou’s amateur videographers. He took inspiration from the cinematic tradition of the city symphony previously explored by Walter Ruttman in Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) and Dziga Vertov in Man With a Movie Camera (1929). The final product, however, reveals a radical departure from the characteristics of the city symphony form. His most obvious divergence lies in the absence of a musical score. Huang’s soundtrack consists solely of the ambient, diagetic sounds of the city. Above all, Huang is most interested in excavating the surreal depths of Guangzhou, probing the absurd dimensions of living in a city that has undergone radical ruptures with the past and experienced dramatic social transformations at breakneck speed.


Wang Ling interviewed Huang at the 2009 during Beijing Documentary Week, and the conversation has been transcribed and posted on distributor dGenerate Films’ website:

Q: The Chinese title of Disorder is ”Now is the Future of the Past.” What does this title have to do with the content of the film?
Huang: I thought for a long time in vain about what name to give to this film. One day, I paced back and forth in my office and noticed a newspaper on the floor. It was the last edition of the year 2007. It summarized the accomplishments by Chinese artists in various fields of art. The introduction of the report was a standard piece that offered a review of the past and a vision of the future. The last sentence of the forward said, “The future is the constant arrival of the present.” Then I asked myself, what is the present? Isn’t the present the future of the past? That was how I decided to name my film.

And a clip of Huang discussing his work at MoMA:

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