Watching ‘Rock Heart Beijing’

‘Rock Heart Beijing’ is a promising debut by Norwegian documentary director Karen Winther. It is a documentary profiling a punk rock band, Subs from China. It documents the life of Kang Mao, the lead singer and the songwriter of this Chinese band. She has a strong voice and has spunk in her. She is an extraordinary brave woman and has a definite charm both on and off-stage.

The movie is not just about the music the Subs make. It also documents the cultural and political situation of East Asia. This fun rock ‘n’ roll documentary shows the Subs performing in their homeland and touring Europe, while reflecting the political and social differences about the same punk rock culture in both the lands.

In China, the Subs are struggling with low pay, less crowds and dingy nightclubs but are still having fun. The Subs stand out everywhere they go, particularly in the small towns they perform at, with people watching them from windows in shock and even the children seem awe-struck. It is indeed delightful to watch.

The Subs make it big with getting a cover spread of a music magazine. However, they just laugh over the fact that the magazine photoshops long pants on the bikini clad lead. To avoid falling foul in the eyes of the sharp media censors – Kano Mao shouts out her lyrics in heavily accented English (even though, she is still taking English lessons).
The music of the band is raw and they refuse to compromise the artistic integrity for commercial gain. They also refuse an offer by Nike even when the money they make is very less.

More touching is the showcase of the band’s personal life in a society which respects family system and has strong traditional rules and values. The documentary also shows the relationship of the lead singer with her father. Her father criticizes her of not having four things –an address, a job, a family and a future. The criticism clearly affects her and the frustration is reflected in her songs.

It follows the band in Europe where punk culture is very different. Punk bands are about rebellion, but it is not really an issue in Europe as it is in China. Only in Norway does the band realize what they have been missing back home. Given full freedom in Norway they  joke that if they lived there, they wouldn’t need Punk Rock. Kang Mao says, “If you live here, how can you feel angry?” She is very happy to be touring in Europe, meeting new people, eating in nice restaurants, she feels free but also says that real freedom is not an individual’s but it’s freedom for everybody.”

Back home, the Subs struggles with health issues, musical conflicts and the limitations in the country. But they are still having fun making music, and they face the problems by supporting each other.The band continues to make great music and inspires a revolution through the guitars and the music.

The documentary could have been smaller. The duration of the movie is 58 minutes, which seems to be a tad bit long.

Lipi Bhardwaj