In the follow-up to her first film, Oxhide I (2005), Liu Jiayin continues to explore the intimate nature of family and shared values. The director from China creates a stand out film with the help of two essential characteristic elements: the use of an extreme widescreen as well as the extensive use of a low-angle camera. While on the surface Oxhide II deals with little else than Liu’s parents making dumplings, there is a much deeper investigation of family values, economic developments, and the future of the family’s oxhide business.
The director’s mother speaks about her exhaustion, about her anguish, the fear of not knowing if they could pay the rent for their shop. The father, a staunch optimist, doesn’t worry. He believes that shops like theirs are the future. All of this is discussed at the table, where Liu’s low angle camera positions us like a child, just tall enough to look over the edge and follow every stage of the process of dumpling making. There is a transgenerational aspect of cultural heritage to film, reinforced by the intimacy which Liu’s aesthetics generate. Her extensive use of an extreme widescreen format also suggests intimacy, a strong link between the family members. Yet it is also an expression of the anguish felt by the director’s mother about the future of their business. Liu’s static camera, the lack of daylight and the tight framing create a suffocating atmosphere. The director is a master of framing for the reinforcement of her parents’ internal anguishes. She traps us, imprisons us, and doesn’t allow our eyes to roam around freely. Our agency as viewer is limited, closely tied to the director’s desires, just as the fate of the family’s oxhide business is tied to global market development. Liu’s frames are like walls that move in on the characters, threatening to crush them. And us.
At a time when China has become an ambiguous player which shifts between communist ideals and capitalist development much to the detriment of the working class, Liu Jiayin’s film is essential viewing for an attempt to understand the path her country is treading and the future that it might hold for simple families like her own.