Hometown Boy chronicles Chinese painter’s rediscovery of his hometown

Painter Liu Xiaodong (R) with a friend and subject in a scene of Hometown Boy.

Hometown Boy, Chinese director and cinematographer Yao Hung-I’s latest documentary, follows renowned Chinese painter Liu Xiaodong on his way to rediscover his hometown and its people living in his native Jincheng, located in northern China.

Xiaodong , known for his works capturing the lives of ordinary people on canvas, left Jincheng at 17 in 1980 to study fine arts in Beijing. Before his departure, he painted his family, friends and neighbours to compile material for his school application. He returns home annually to celebrate Chinese New Year.

Since leaving Jincheng, this is the first extensive trip home in 30 years, deepening the exploration of his friends and places and giving a sense of nostalgia and re-discovery. It reveals  the inevitable passage of time in his town and the social and economic development,  the streets and rural landscape as well as his old friends, who he reveals them in a new light, portraying them and their surroundings with honesty and artistic freedom.

The film, which won Best Documentary honours at the 2011 Golden Horse Awards (Taiwan’s Oscars), opens with Xiaodong at his parents'  living room, watching TV.  Conversations flow (all occurring dialogues are in Chinese with some subtitles in English), while Xiaodong, starts to stroke with  big brushes, tracing the oil colours onto the canvas -- medium he would use for the rest of his works during the project.

As a visual artist, it’s not strange that Xiaodong takes a filmmaker approach:  as he advances  in his indoors and outdoors’ expedition attempt to gather images  and to capture them “infusing his  childhood memories to this and current existence”.

Live portraits and landscapes are part of this series: a female friend at a billiard hall, a friend with his "chubby baby" near the street market, a karaoke bar owner in his neon-lighted place of work,  a group of friends playing cards and at the wheat fields

In Yao Hung-I’s Hometown Boy, Xiaodong “comes out of himself and his personality and expression penetrate the surface of the painting,” producer Hou Hsaio-Hien (a renowned Taiwanese director and Hung-I's mentor) has said on the film.  “The film Hometown Boy hopes to record this process from Liu Xiaodong's perspective as well as understand his art practice from this intimate distance.”

Yao Hung-I delivers a fascinating film, with enticing images, hand-in-hand with those of Xiadong. Close-ups from the people and landscapes invade the screen, juxtaposing the busy lives inside a small town against the the bucolic, romantic countryside scenery.

Hometown Boy will be screened on March 30 at the Pacific Cinemateque and is presented in conjunction with Yellow Signal: New Media in China, an exhibition of recent contemporary video and new media artwork made by Chinese artists.

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