Be There or Be Square | Chicago Reader

Be There or Be Square

This 1998 Chinese feature by Feng Xiaogang plays like an updated screwball comedy, with unlikely romantic leads Ge You (Farewell My Concubine, To Live) and Xu Fan striking sparks as two Beijing emigrants trying to survive in Los Angeles. Through their misadventures they come to realize that America is more complicated and less friendly than the “gold mountain” they imagined, but in true Tracy-Hepburn fashion their verbal jousting eventually leads them into each other's arms. Feng's earlier films satirized the Chinese status quo and got him into trouble with the censors; in contrast, Be There or Be Square gently skewers Asians' weakness for the consumerism and sentimentality of Middle America, and it was a big hit on the mainland. In a way Feng shares his characters' infatuation with the West: the film's trailer parks and run-down hotels are as carefully observed as its Beverly Hills mansions, and southern California becomes a strange land that Ge and Xu regard with a mix of fondness and trepidation.

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