The Transition Period

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am


Today, Zhou Hao's The Transition Period - which premiered at the Hong Kong International Film Festival in 2009 - comes with a new Chinese title. It's now called Shuji (Secretary). This title refers to the profession of Guo Yongchang, the documentary's protagonist and, at the time of filming, party secretary of the Henanese county of Gushi.

Two years ago, Zhou's film was titled Dong Yue (Winter Months) in reference to the season in which the film was made. It was also a pointer to how the documentary chronicled the last three months of Guo's four-year reign as the de facto ruler of one of the mainland's fastest-growing counties before he took up a posting as a provincial apparatchik.

If only Zhou had retained the documentary's title: Guo's seemingly glorious exit is now very much the final hurrah in his political career. The Transition Period ends with a frame of on-screen text, which states how Guo was reprimanded a year after his departure from Gushi for suspected economic wrongdoings.

Since then, Guo has been stripped of his job and his membership of the mainland's legislature. He is now serving a seven-year sentence for taking two million yuan in bribes in his years working in Gushi. The Transition Period hardly ever shows Guo committing the misdeeds he was accused of doing. It is not an expose with hidden cameras and sources appearing as silhouettes.

Instead, Zhou's presence is acknowledged throughout by Guo, his assistants and his political and business associates - to the point that a Taiwanese businessman, who appears to be quite worse for drink, actually tells Zhou on camera how he sees mainland officials as being fascinated by power and money.

That's probably the most explicit moment in The Transition Period, but the film still offers fascinating sequences such as Guo getting plastered at parties, wheeling and dealing with property developers and disgruntled citizens, and working to ensure a preferred colleague becomes his successor.

The Transition Period, June 27, 7.30pm, HK Arts Centre