Private Detective is a documentary centred on the work of an ‘off-licence’ detective called Lao Fang, who focuses mainly on misbehaving spouses and debt collection. Fang is a seasoned detective who draws from his experience investigating other people’s private affairs as well his own experience with his ex-wife. In China a cheating spouse could be punished heavily in a divorce with large amounts of money going to the non-guilty party; this is a very lucrative affair for Fang, charging from 10,000 Yuan (£1000 roughly) per week.
Pan Zhiqi is a school professor in China with a very good eye for social and personal issues, hence why he is able to interview all parties ranging from the couple, the friends and our detective. The first case we follow begins with an old woman who believes her husband is cheating on her; Fang casually admits that she is far too old and could easily be cheated on. We follow Fang as he begins to follow the husband home from work, but quickly loses him when he suspiciously drives back on himself. Fang remains cautious but is unaware of the presence of an ‘anti-detective’, a title held by the husband’s brother – Fang is not the first detective to be hired for this couple and quickly falls into a trap. Soon after Pan Zhiqi, Fang and the anti-detective share a meal and discuss the problems with the relationship. The documentary then begins its social commentary on marriage and relationships, while divorce is still taboo in some areas of china it’s for the children that most couples seek to stay together. There is a touching interview with the husband who openly admits his feelings for his wife ended 20 years ago and only married because his parents were, at the time, very worried about his bachelorhood.
In another case a husband is becoming more distressed about his wife working late nights in a bar, Fang as usual suspects that something could definitely be wrong “she’s far too pretty to be working there”. Fang’s investigation leads him to take photos of the wife with her boss walking down the road which he believes show intimacy, the husband however, doesn’t see it and is keener than ever to make his marriage work. Luckily the documentary takes place over several months to provide closure of these couples but what does remain uncertain is the fate of Fang who must deal with other detectives and the legal and moral grey-zone he operates in.
An after-film interview at the festival has revealed that Fang is now happily working as a Chinese medical herbalist, while Pan Zhiqi continues to make documentaries about contemporary China and the colourful life of Lao Fang.
Lost Wall, once again directed by Pan Zhiqi and focusing on a single relationship is the 2nd Prize Jury winner at the festival for its “sensitive, intimate and ultimately deeply moving portrait of the struggle of a blind masseur and his girlfriend to sustain their relationship and survive on the margins of society.”
Pan is able to get a very close and intimate dialogue with Xiao Zhang, a blind masseur who despite his disability is still looking for love and marriage in a relationship with his long term friend and love Zhao Rong. The relationship moves between touching and abusive moments as the couple share each other’s company before chastising the other for their shortcomings. The trust between the filmmaker and the subject allows us to hear Xiao voice his insecurities and even follow him as he spies on his girlfriend with their boss at the massage parlour.
Xiao is joined by his two best friends in this endeavour as they form a stake out outside the parlour, discussing his fear that they could be cheating and that his friend should take photos as evidence when they ‘burst’ in to the parlour. The conversation applies some humour to distract away from Xiao’s fears that he may have lost his girlfriend before his dreams of proposing are realised.
Xiao must also deal with his father’s illness and the prospect of unemployment as his stakeout has unsettled the relationship between everyone at the massage parlour. Pan maintains a distance from the relationship and finds other points of view to conceptualise the ‘love’ shared in the sprawling and chaotic urban existence.
Lost Wall is about a man who can take solace in the things he has, not what he doesn’t and eventually finding the strength to propose to his girlfriend who accepts at the end. The film was made 2 years ago and the after word of the film is a depressing tale of how Xiao is too young to marry in China and is now serving three years in prison for fraud, though the film ends on a high and, on an optimistic note, these facts force the audience to be glad for what they have and not to ever give up.