China, Comedy, Drama, Films, Recommended posts, Reviews

The Hammer and Sickle are Sleeping

An immersive and funny look at the poverty stricken lives of Communist China’s forgotten communities…

An immersive examination of the desperate lives led by China’s former miners, Geng Jun’s The Hammer and Sickle are Sleeping is thoughtful and yet darkly comedic. Centred around 3 men who have no income or prospects to think of, the film lays bare their lives as they are forced to beg, barter and steal in order to survive the harsh winter.

Much depth and realism is added by the casting of only non-professional and often local actors starring in the film, and while the film does suffer from a clunky script at the offset, this soon changes once the characters join forces and a comedy of errors unfolds.  Two ex-miners scheme to con people out of their money by cross dressing or hitting them over the head with a crutch, a man uses a hammer to rob people, and their friend earns money by singing and working for the local church. Their attempts often fail, however, and scenes spiral into slapstick comedy – even when they team up they end up being beaten up by a woman they try to rob.

It’s not only the foolhardy trio that makes the movie work well. The cinematography of the film is noteworthy in its ability to accurately represent the plight of the cast – the frozen backdrop acting as an additional force that the characters must face. Another aspect that works well is the timing of Jun’s dark comedy. As the characters attempt to alleviate their dire situation, their ridiculous plots and failures is both well timed and ironic in it’s contrast to their otherwise poverty stricken lives.

However, as the film has such a short runtime it does feel like the audience doesn’t get enough time with the characters. This means that, although amusing, it is hard to invest in the lives of Jun’s characters, and the film loses some of its impact as a result. This is especially true when one character suggests that they use the aforementioned hammer to knock people out, or even kill them.

The Hammer and Sickle are Sleeping is ultimately an intriguing exposition of the desperate lengths people go to in remote areas of communist china. It is a funny and realistic portrayal of these villagers’ lives, which is only enhanced by the inclusion of real-life residents in the main cast. However, while this is the case, it is necessary to point out that this film is not for everyone, and it’s comedic elements may fall flat due to it’s, arguably, poor taste.

The Hammer and Sickle Are Sleeping won the Jury Prize at the 2015 CVF Awards, and screens at the BFI Southbank on Saturday 9 May with Lost Mountain, as part of the 2015 Chinese Visual Festival. Find out more about film and director on the CVF website.

About the author

Roxy Simons
Roxy is an arts journalist, and has been in love with Asian culture ever since she first discovered anime and Asian cinema at a young age. Countless cinematic masterpieces from the east, manga, anime and dramas have continued to fuel this passion for the region, and she is excited to show her appreciation through easternKicks. More »
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