At once piercingly observant and intimately complicit in his approach, director Xu
Tong trains his mobile, intimacy-generating camera on unique real-life characters
in order to explore the ongoing clash of rural traditions with China’s rush to modernity.
In Cut Out the Eyes, Xu follows Er Housheng, a blind musician who travels
Inner Mongolia with his lover/partner Liu Lanlan performing the saucy, sensationally
bawdy form of musical duet comedy called er ren tai. Er’s female audiences are particularly
enthralled with his combination of sensuality, Rabelaisian earthiness, and
socially subversive lyrics.
Er is a charismatic, mesmerizing narrative-generating machine, singing of his own
incredibly fascinating, violently tumultuous life, and of the (mostly) sex lives of the
people who form his community, grass roots down-to-earth folk whose lives haven’t
changed much in decades, in rural Chinese Inner Mongolia.
Live performance, in Er’s
hands (and in his and Liu Lanlan’s voices) is something both enthrallingly surreal and
earthily commonplace: his audiences hear him boast about his prowess, his courage,
his creativity, his trouble with women, not unlike a 1930s American blues singer, or
even a 21st century Chinese rural Kanye West!
The commonplace becomes spectacle, reality shines like magical fables, But there is
darkness, danger, and unspeakable violence in Er Housheng’s life, love, and lyrics.
While the film is on one level an enthralling ethnographic showpiece, at its core Cut
Out the Eyes is a passionate, frenzied psychodrama of lust, violence, and genius.
An industrial fantasy in black and white: bodies flicker between public monuments while sunflowers hang beneath the ground.