Sat, Oct 25, 2003 - Page 16 News List

Tea culture set to electronica

The National Geographic Channel is airing a documentary about Chinese tea culture set to the music of Taiwan DJ Lim Giong

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

Two-Way Tea Journey reveals the complicated fermenting process of making Pu-er tea leaves.

PHOTO COURTESY OF NGC

What happens when a Wong Kar Wai (王家衛) style visual image mixes with the electronic music of Taiwanese DJ/musician Lim Giong (林強)? For filmmaker Amos Lee (李業華) it becomes a new narrative and a new perspective for documentary making. He calls it a "music

documentary."

To the possible surprise of many people, the trendy pop-style show will air on the National Geographic Channel -- which is famous for shows about wild animals, science and historical documentaries.

Two-Way Tea Journey (懷鄉茶話) is Hong Kong-based Lee's fifth film, and his first film set in China. Using funds from the Showing Real Asia project, sponsored by both the channel and the Economic Development Board of Singapore, Lee made a film with a distinctive subjective -- namely Chinese tea culture.

The story of the film is, like the title suggests, a two-way journey. On one hand, it's a search for 5,000 years of Chinese tea culture, which was almost ruined by the Cultural Revolution; on the other, it's a personal journey reflecting on a man coming to peace with the trauma of that period in history, through picking up the tea-drinking habit again.

Yuan Jianguo (袁建國) is a middle-aged man in 1970s China, an ex-philosophy academic and a passionate believer in Chinese tea culture. Fascinated by tea, he sets out on a voyage from the east to the west of China to trace the once lost tea culture.

The documentary team followed Yuan, first going to Yixing in east China to search for the best quality tea pot, made in the world famous zisha pot kiln (紫砂壺). Then, they went to Yunnan province in south west China, looking for the origin of tea plantations and the 100 year-old Pu-er tea leaves.

Finally, Yuan went to Lu Mountain to look for the purest, sweetest spring water, a crucial element to making a good pot of tea.

This tea journey is also a quest of self-discovery and the grief caused by the Cultural Revolution is analyzed along the way.

The score of Lim offers a different pace for this sentimental part of the journey. It is sometimes lively and light-hearted, sometimes slow and chill -- and sometimes tranquil like new age music.

"When the director, Lee asked me to do music for the film, he said he wanted the music to be the narrator. So I tried to make the music play the part of the voice-over," Lim said.

"Lim impresses me with his music. His music sounds international, but if you listen to the beat closely, you can feel that it has a very Chinese feeling. And this is the new Asian perspective I wanted to present in the movie," Lee said.

In other words, this 30-minute, Chinese tea-related film does not re-exploit the stereotypes and symbols of Chinese culture. There are no gongs and drums as a Chinese music background and no grand overview of a giant temple. Instead, the visual style is similar to acclaimed Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai.

Lee's two previous films are documentaries of two of Wong's feature films. In 2000, Lee co-directed Buenos Aires Zero Degree, the Making of Happy Together. And in 2001, he was the co-director of the movie The Making of In the Mood for Love.

"Wong has had a great influence on him [Lim], especially in the use of music," Lee said.

Wong has previously said that the starting point for many of his movies is usually a piece of music or a song that he hears, rather than a script or idea.

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