Chinese Art Attack

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is a moving middle finger

It’s impossible not to watch Ai Weiwei, dubbed by some as the “Chinese Andy Warhol,” tell his motherland to eff right on off without thinking one thing first and foremost: That dude has got some Buddha-sized stones. Although Ai may possess the street art cred and pop culture popularity of Warhol, paintings of a Campbell’s soup can never inspired fear in the heart of an oppressive regime; oh, and nobody ever gave Warhol a beating that made his brain bleed for challenging authority.

Documentarian Alison Klayman’s immersive biography of Ai, Never Sorry, is stunning in its revelation of a man with the potential to dynamically change a rigid nation and none of the haughty pomposity that should accompany such potential. Seemingly nothing was off limits to Klayman, who managed to detail elements both personal (he has a young son with a woman other than his wife) and public (his savage encounter with Chinese police). The end result is the portrait of an activist with the grace of an artist.

Beginning with Ai’s inclusion on designing “The Bird’s Nest” for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the genius seemingly disguised in the body of a pizza delivery man, rocketed to international acclaim. He was one of the first to fully embrace social media within China, leveraging his burgeoning fame to hold those in power accountable. When the government failed to release the number of children killed due to shoddy, or “tofu,” construction during the Sichuan earthquake, Ai spent months networking to arrive at a number. And once there, he created a sprawling monument composed of more than 5,000 colorful backpacks.

You do not do that in China. Ai recorded the night the authorities finally came for him; his agony in the wake of being brutally struck in the head was eventually Tweeted to thousands of followers. The film follows not only his response to this incident, but his astoundingly humble reaction to becoming a man fans call “Ai God.” In Ai there is a sort of Americanized resistance that is familiarly charming. Klayman’s unobtrusive, uncontrolled narrative endears her central figure so much that when the boisterous, no-holds-barred hero is muted by torture from government officials, it’s genuinely heartbreaking.

Grade = B+

Never Sorry is fascinating, which the adjective for which documentaries aspire. But it isn’t quite transcendent, stumbling a bit with boring Art 101 history segments about Ai’s early years and showcasing a few too many talking heads we care nothing about telling us what is already evident to us without their “expert opinions.” Still, there is a lot to ponder, from the fact that Ai no longer actually makes the art himself, he has the work done for him by others, to what could possibly be next for a mostly ordinary guy with the weight of billions on his back.

Covering the same time period, Never Sorry is a great counterpoint to the Beijing Olympics, which displayed just how far that isolated nation has come. Ai is a walking, talking reminder that there are some folks determined to never apologize for how far it still has to go.

posted at 10:56 pm
on Friday, August 17th, 2012

COMMENTS

(We're testing Disqus commenting (finally!); please let us know if you have trouble.)

comments powered by Disqus

 

« Previous Page


Fury Is Missing Fast

Inside of writer/director David Ayer’s Fury is a tight, 90-minute, “we will hold this line” war movie populated with complex characters and surprisingly good performances. Problem is, it was slipped...

more »


The Adventures of Super Vlad

Left out of the superhero movie party every other studio is throwing, Universal made the ballsy decision to turn Dracula into caped crusader. Gone are the prominent widow’s peak, goofy accent and...

more »


Everyone is Awful

Warning to newly engaged couples: Do not see Gone Girl, a movie that makes marriage look like The Hunger Games with slightly more alleged sodomy. Writer Gillian Flynn, adapting her own novel, filters...

more »


Swimming in the Laika

From Ray Harryhausen’s Medusa to Henry Selick’s Jack Skellington, stop-motion animation is just frickin’ cool, yo. Maybe it’s the meticulous nature of the art form, with each tiny gesture by a...

more »


The Dies That Bind

“Hilarious!” say the trailers! “Really funny!” says the poster. “You are all sick people!” says me.

Yes, in parts, The Skeleton Twins is amusing. This is because stars Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig...

more »







Advanced Search