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REVIEW: DANCING IN THE ROOM (Peng Lei – 2014) [Sydney Film Festival]


I now officially have a new metric for strange films, there’s going to be ‘weird’ or ‘Dancing in the Room weird.’ Writer/director Peng Lei is a Chinese independent filmmaker (and musician – he also scores the film) who brings us a tale of the disenfranchised youth of China, by way of Mars.

Huabian (Jiang Yuchen) lives in rural China and decides that she needs to get to Beijing to expand her cultural horizons. Arriving in Beijing is awful; She must resort to living in an apartment that resembles a dungeon, working for a job that requires her to pointlessly click a website to ramp up the hits to get the funds to upgrade to something better. Along the way she has increasingly weird experiences with friendships, neighbours and dating push her to the end of her rope.


Lei’s film is very much a black comedy about the unfortunate state of often university graduates flooding the cities of China for work and being forced to live on or below the poverty line. Strangely though Lei chooses Jiang Yuchen’s Huabian, the most bland human in existence, to be their champion. There’s nothing in her performance, save for a few choice mean barbs entirely from Lei’s script that a mannequin and voice over couldn’t have done. And I think that Lei began to know it. After pushing away the guy smitten with her, being too good for the only person who’d ever bothered to acknowledge that she existed and having an extremely weird internet dating experience with a cosplaying troll she adopts a cat and lives out an almost solitary existence.

Lei shoots this cat like Alfred Hitchcock shot Grace Kelly. It essentially becomes the slinking, purring star of the film. Lei feels like he has sat in his room watching every damned cat video on Youtube as research. The narrative is essentially on pause while the cat does cat stuff and breaks the fourth wall, which is funny but baffling. Lei’s soundtrack though is phenomenal. The moody electro roars and steely acoustic guitar twang enhances some pretty mediocre composition and performance. Think a mesh between The Album Leaf and The Postal Service.

What follows should have had a countdown so that you knew that you were about to be heading off world. It’s kind of what would happen if Hello Kitty and Taxi Driver had a baby.

Dancing in the Room began as disenfranchised black comedy and ended as a nonsensical mess, but it was somewhat pleasurable nonetheless.


Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman and listen to legacy audio reviews on That Movie Show 2UE here or on top-rating film podcast Pod Save Our Screen, available now on iTunes.

Directed by: Peng Lei
Written by: Peng Lei
Starring: Jiang Yuchen


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