The Stumbling Blocks in Cala, My Dog

Whether a realistic film on little people's life can pull it off or not, depends very much on the actors' performance. Ge You, who is more or less prompt to fall into overacting or exaggeration, is much more subdued and at ease here playing Lao Er in Cala, My Dog, though there are still traces of affectation.

In his interpretation of an ordinary worker with redundancy staring him at the face and whose meaning of existence (a pet dog) is suddenly taken away from him, Ge You allows his character to vent out in some occasions, but he more than understands their humble existence and keeps to their humbling reactions. Hence, under his disheveled hair, his eyes narrow to a slit for focusing on whatever lies ahead. When his old frame changes her clothes, he turns his back with such self-consciousness that this genuine/faux puritanical reaction instantly tinges their relationship with ambiguity. Overall speaking, with his predicament and perplexity shown vividly in his face and his dragging gait, Lao Er is easily the most fascinating element in the film.

In comparison, the film falls short in its attempt to convince the audience that "Lao Er lives a dog's life" or "Lao Er is worse than a dog". With an absurd underlying conception and a melodramatic plot and relationship (for instance, Lao Er's scenes with his old frame and wife respectively could be made into three side confrontations), the film, however, opts for a parallel development with no climaxes or clear -cut intersections. In his pursuit of breakthroughs, the director tries to play down the melodramatic elements of a melodrama, resulting, however, in stripping the film of its dramatic potentials and ending in superficiality.

A film cannot depend on the actors' performance alone to move the story but also on mise-en-scene, interaction of plotlines and more importantly, appropriate means of expression. These are movie clich but unfortunately, also the stumbling blocks of Cala, My Dog.

By Lawrence Lau

(Translated by Teri Chan)