Review: Two Great Sheep

Two Great Sheep
Photo: Beijing Starlight International Media Co. Ltd.

In Two Great Sheep, commerce comes to a Chinese countryside in the form of two exotic animals given to an impoverished farmer and his wife. Even if nothing grows in this breathtaking but barren domain of the world for the wind to blow through, Liu Hao’s transcendental study of landscape still begs comparisons to Abbas Kiarostami’s Through the Olive Trees and The Wind Will Carry Us. At first, the local townspeople resent Deshan (Sun Yunkun) and his wife (Jiang Zhikun) for their sheep: “You just sit there and watch the money roll in,” someone says, a ludicrous declaration considering the amount of work it takes to care for the animals, which the local government hopes to breed and profit from their wool. But soon others begin to chip in and Two Great Sheep reveals itself as a metaphor for collectivism, except I’m not exactly sure if Hao is for or against Bolshevism. Distant and inexplicably irascible, the government officials in the film still look to help the people of the region, but when their little experiment in capitalism fails, they repossess the sheep, ignoring Deshan and his wife’s very personal connection to these animals they’ve taken into their home. The sheep are nowhere near as finicky as the couple that cares for them nor are they as uncompromising as the rocky topography around them, two points the film makes very early on. The final shot is a stunner (snow clings to the rocks and twigs of a distant landscape like confectioner’s sugar), but Two Greet Sheep should have ended much sooner than this. Indeed, there’s a great short film in here somewhere, but as it stands, Hao’s debut becomes something of an endurance test after Deshan has run across a field or down a mountain for the millionth time in pursuit of food for the titular sheep or someone carrying bitter tidings about the animals.

 Cast: Sun Yunkun, Jiang Zhikun, Yang Zuojiu  Director: Liu Hao  Screenwriter: Xia Tianmin  Running Time: 100 min  Rating: NR  Year: 2004

Ed Gonzalez

Ed Gonzalez is the co-founder of Slant Magazine. His writing has also appeared in The Village Voice and The Los Angeles Times. He’s a member of the New York Film Critics Circle, the Critics Choice Association, and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association.

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