IN THE West, Zhang Yuan would be hailed as a wunderkind by now. Instead, the 30-year-old director of China's first independent feature film, Mama, barely has an outlet for his work. At the Hongkong Film Festival screening of his award-winning feature about a woman struggling to take care of her mentally disabled son, Zhang is also giving a select few a look at the rough cut of his upcoming Beijing Bastards, a tale of disaffected youth in the capital. Structured heavily around music, the film features original songs by Cui Jian, China's hottest rock star, and two bands. Live concert footage gives the film an energy which propels it along de- spite the stunning alienation expressed by the characters. For the film's theme song, Quan Ron (which loosely translates as ''openness and flexibility''), Zhang has Cui recite the lyrics before belting them out with his rasping, gut-wrenching voice. ''I feel it is very important to the film that the lyrics be recited and that they are translated into English,'' said Zhang. ''Bastard does not refer to the lifestyle so much as to the mindset of the youth,'' he said. ''They are not real street kids, but artists, and they are working things out for themselves. ''After 20 years of Mao theory, with all that education, they see things have collapsed since Tiananmen and the break-up of the Soviet Union. With all that being erased, where do you go from there? How do you establish a lifestyle appropriate to the situation? ''You always have to keep looking for the answers. Looking for it is the most important thing. But the main thing is that you must keep on living. That is the only thing to do.'' The film's style is a reaction against traditional Chinese film-making. Zhang turns away from plot and dialogue, focusing on a stream-of-consciousness style that includes footage from real life. In addition, each character gives a monologue on subjects affecting their lives - money, friendship, love. Throughout the film, sounds of slogans and news of the day from the television and loudspeakers can be heard, adding to the political and social subtext of the film. One particularly disturbing scene is a ''date-rape''. Overshadowing this is an indifference more frightening than the violence itself. ''They don't care if they have sex. She is questioning whether she should stay in school, he is constantly smoking dope. They are not that interested in the sex, but it is a violent expression of their inner violence,'' explained Zhang. But his films are not all doom and gloom; he merely wants to point out that changes are taking place and how they are affecting the people around him. Zhang's future plans include tackling the plight of the gay community in China. ''It is one of the themes he is considering,'' said Beijing Bastards co-producer and film-maker Chris Doyle. ''There is a really heavy scene up there. It is discreet, but quite a scene.'' Rather than get funding from the government for Mama, Zhang used savings from his ''day job'' - producing music videos and commercials - as well as small sums from friends and ''entrepreneurs who believed in his talent''. He also turned to independent sources to finance Beijing Bastards. But the production went over budget, costing US$250,000 (HK$1.95 million), compared with Mama 's US$190,000 price tag. Mama was distributed by the Xian Film Studios, because China's laws prevented Zhang from selling directly to exhibitors; he plans to do the same with Bastards. He is concerned his films reach the people he has made them about. But, for now, he is busy finishing the film and getting it on the festival circuit, as well as finding a Hongkong distributor. Born in 1963, Zhang graduated from the Beijing Film Academy in 1989 about the same time as the tanks were rolling into Tiananmen Square. The massacre was responsible for the course of his career: it dissuaded him from accepting the job he was assigned ongraduation: making films for the military's August First Studio. But ''Tiananmen,'' he said, stroking his smooth chin, ''is not the only problem in China.''