Chris Marker’s 22-minute video essay on Peking (now Beijing) is as jovial as a tourist’s demeanour while visiting a foreign land – a locale so exoticized in the tourist’s interaction with popular culture that he / she may refuse to acknowledge any other impression of the land on his / her visit and may even be disappointed upon not being treated to the promised exoticisms.
Few minutes into the film and you would be pleased / annoyed (depending on which side of the coin you prefer) at images of the China you have seen in popular movies or read in literature. Marker doesn’t make any claim about the film being anything other than a tourist’s reflection on the city of Peking.
Marker’s camera and even more so his words never lead the viewer on to believe that he / she is viewing a documentary about the life in the capital of 1950s China, because it is and is not a documentary, at the same time. However, it is much more than what meets the eye. On the one hand this attempt is a subjective portrayal of the land Marker, fascinated by the exotic images in a book, as a child desired to visit, while on the other with its subversive wit tries to make it less exotic, by relating it to life in the west, or by draining all the exoticism from a “Chinese boxing” performance by revealing that the performers filmed were actually patients from a nearby hospital simply exercising. There are many more such examples that punctuate the exotic narrative with doses of reality or you may say familiarity to our own ways.