The Black Cannon Incident

Social satire was forbidden in Maoist China, but this 1986 feature, released during Deng Xiaoping's reforms, makes some tentative jabs at the taboo. A young business translator is mistaken for a spy and loses his job after innocently referring to a chess piece (the “black cannon” of the title) in a telegram, and director Huang Jianxin gets plenty of mileage from the chain of bureaucratic bumbling that ensues. The translator, critical to a public construction project, petitions to get his job back, which necessitates a flurry of party meetings, each funnier and more macabre than the last in the Kafkaesque debate between ideology and business interests. Huang lacks the light touch that Billy Wilder or Juzo Itami might have brought to such material, and he crams in as many messages as possible, as if he were afraid of losing his soapbox. But by lampooning China?s hapless bureaucrats, The Black Cannon Incident creates its own little shock wave.

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