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This Review Reveals Major Details About the Plot.

Ruan's Song

So Close to Paradise (1998) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Late 1980s. Down by a Shanghai waterfront Gao Ping (Guo Tao), who's been transplanted from a country village, engages in chicanery with a city boy (“Don't hit me too hard; no need to kill me”) together staging a robbery (“You'll get the rest later”), but the city boy makes off with the chump's share. Honest and naïve Dong Zi (Shi Yu) (“I'm from the country­side, from the same village, from HuangPi”) arrives to stay with him (“Gao Ping is my friend.”) He has none of the ambition driving his friend who tells him, “There's no money in being a ‘shoulder pole’.” DongZi is our narrator.

Gao Ping cleans up his rube friend and brings him under protest to Li Li Night­club looking for Vietnamese singer Ruan Hong (Tong Wang) who's never met the former (“bu renshi wo”) and denies even knowing that city boy (“Wo bu renshi ta”) who owes him the money. She's the key to finding city boy. With DongZi's aid Gao Ping kidnaps her.

Next we see them happy together, our narrator saying, “I don't know why (“Wo bu renshi ma wei­shenma”) all of a sudden they became a couple.” Think Stockholm Syndrome. Gao Ping tells him, “This is what's called love in the big city.” Our narrator adds, “But because of this love he lost his life. He never knew whom this Vietnamese girl belonged to.” … “Ruan Hong belonged to ‘The Boss’. The money belonged to ‘The Boss’. The city guy who cheated him also belonged to ‘The Boss’.”

Oct. 28 of the lunar year. The city boy under compulsion leads Gao Ping to the place of business of the boss Su Wu (Tao Wu) where he doesn't get his money, but the boss comes looking for him three days later, the police in five days, and his girl­friend in a sennight and twain. But Gao Ping is lying low.


The Apocrypha is not in the Protestant canon but its wisdom books are accepted for edification, among them being Ecclesiasticus also known as the Wisdom of the Son of Sirach. Let's look at some of it: (Sirach 2:4-5) “What­soever is brought upon thee take cheerfully, and be patient when thou art changed to a low estate. For gold is tried in the fire, and acceptable men in the furnace of adversity.” Gao Ping did not take grace­fully being robbed.

(Sirach 4:31) “Let not thine hand be stretched out to receive, and shut when thou shouldest repay.” Gao Ping wanted his share of the loot, but the money was a payment for goods that the legitimate recipient was not to get.

(Ecclesiasticus 7:15) “Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry, which the most High hath ordained.” DongZi from the country­side had the right idea: “People should make money by their labor and shouldn't break the law.”

(Ecclesiasticus 8:16) “Strive not with an angry man, and go not with him into a solitary place: for blood is as nothing in his sight; and where there is no help, he will over­throw thee.” The city boy came to grief with an angry Gao Ping.

(Sir. 9:2) “Give not thy soul unto a woman to set her foot upon thy sub­stance.” Gao Ping got into trouble bringing Ruan Hong home.

(Sir. 9:4) “Use not much the company of a woman that is a singer, lest thou be taken with her attempts.” There are singers and there are singers. Ruan Hong tried to sleep her way to stardom. A troubadour singer, though, at the café merely sung plum operas for modest recompense that DongZi insisted on giving her rather than from Gao Ping. Gao Ping also warned him off the hot peppers that Dongzi had trouble handling, as with women, “Stay clear of women,” but, after all, it's his life, his body.

There were the women singing “Happy Birthday” to one of themselves, reminding us of, (Acts 20:35) “the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In fact such singing on behalf of others, on behalf especially of children, sanctifies the singer as analogous, in a mixed marriage, to, (1Cor 7:14) “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.”

(Sir. 9:13) “Keep thee far from the man that hath power to kill; so shalt thou not doubt the fear of death: and if thou come unto him, make no fault, lest he take away thy life presently: remember that thou goest in the midst of snares, and that thou walkest upon the battle­ments of the city.” Gao Ping was on dangerous territory tangling with the boss.

(Sirach 11:11–13) “There is one that laboureth, and taketh pains, and maketh haste, and is so much the more behind. Again, there is another that is slow, and hath need of help, wanting ability, and full of poverty; yet the eye of the Lord looked upon him for good, and set him up from his low estate, and lifted up his head from misery; so that many that saw it marveled at him.” Dongzi for all his naivety in the city seemed to do okay, while Gao Ping for all his cunning went face-down.

(Sirach 40:1-7) “Great travail is created for every man, and an heavy yoke is upon the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother's womb, till the day that they return to the mother of all things. Their imagination of things to come, and the day of death, [trouble] their thoughts, and [cause] fear of heart; From him that sitteth on a throne of glory, unto him that is humbled in earth and ashes; From him that weareth purple and a crown, unto him that is clothed with a linen frock. Wrath, and envy, trouble, and unquietness, fear of death, and anger, and strife, and in the time of rest upon his bed his night sleep, do change his knowledge. A little or nothing is his rest, and after­ward he is in his sleep, as in a day of keeping watch, troubled in the vision of his heart, as if he were escaped out of a battle. When all is safe, he awaketh, and marvelleth that the fear was nothing.” The troubles these people go through are the lot of all mankind.

Production Values

The Chinese movie, “So Close to Paradise” (1998) was directed by Xiao­shuai Wang. It was written (in Mandarin, with English sub­titles) by Xiao­shuai Wang and Ming Pang. It stars Wang Tong, Shi Yu, Guo Tao, and Wu Tao. It being an under­ground Chinese flick, we should not expect access to big name stars, and these while not Oscar material, at least they played their parts consistently and didn't flub their lines. Important to the occidental viewer for whom orientals tend to look alike, the (few) main parts were distinguish­able from each other. City Boy wore an ear­ring, Big Boss was all mouth, the two friends were of different builds & the rube sported a bowl haircut, the night­club singer was gorgeously attired, the “land­lord” was a matronly land­lady, and the police were in uniform. Wang Tong was alluring.

An unofficial Chinese movie would hardly be rated, but it does seem to allow for the sensibilities of a green audience, using a lot of restraint. Although it deals with subjects of sex and violence, we are spared the graphic images usually associated with same. The only kissing in a romance was between two doll-angels. We see no swordplay, just a bloody sword, and no bedroom scene, just a bedroom. I found it kind of a relief after the onslaught of western movies.

Director of photography Yang Tao did a presentable job with camera angles up and down the stairs, and some circling of the main characters. Music was minimal, mostly related to the plot. The director wanted to portray individual personal perspectives as opposed to the state's, the people's, or traditional.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

I found “So Close to Paradise” an interesting and mellow film. It doesn't wind one up so much, being more in the league of a TV soap opera. It's patient in tempo more than a hurried plot. It would be best appreciated by someone with special interests.

Movie Ratings

Action Factor: Weak action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Wake up and smell the 1990s technology. Video Occasion: None of the Above. Suspense: Predictable. Overall product rating: three and a half stars out of five.

Works Cited

Scripture is taken from the King James Version. Pub. 1611, rev. 1769, 1873, 2011. Software, Print.

Apocryphal scripture taken from The Septuagint with Apoc­rypha: Greek and English. U.S.A.: Hendrick­son Pub.
   Originally published by Samuel Bagster & Sons, Ltd., London, 1851. Print, WEB.