A review of “Quitting” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: **

Rating: R for language, disturbing images

Run Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes



The fetid underbelly of fame has never looked uglier than in this unpleasant drama/re-enactment about a seriously disenfranchised Chinese youth and his battle with drugs.

The film focuses on real-life 80s and 90s film star, Jia Hongsheng (played by himself). Jia shot to instant stardom by playing heroes and gangsters in a long string of Chinese B-movies, moving on to the stage version of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman” directed by Zhang Yang (who was compelled to craft and direct this unsettling project).

Jia’s fragile psychological state was a bad fit with the hard drugs he started experimenting with in the early 90s.  Full of professional doubt, he sank into despair so deep that he quit acting altogether and cut himself off from family and friends.  Horrified at their beloved son’s withdrawal and addiction, Jia’s parents sacrificed their careers, and moved into his Beijing apartment in a desperate attempt to salvage his sanity.

To call this an unflinching portrayal of Jia’s life is a gross understatement.  The pain and degradation experienced by Jia’s parents (also played by themselves) is horribly palpable, but it doesn’t stop there.  Jia’s schizophrenic behavior, and his blatant disregard for anyone or anything outside himself, establishes such strong character hatred that I found myself praying for Jia’s suicide in order to be spared the remainder of his sordid personal tale.

I can appreciate the cutting edge artistic movement of China in the early 90s.  I admire the strength of a family willing to relive their private demons through film. To be fair, there appear to be nebulous cultural subtleties that might clarify Jia’s bratty egocentricity. What I can’t handle is a human being so self-destructive and dislikable that he’s willing, in fact eager, to take everyone down to hell with him.  Jia’s ultimate quest to rediscover himself comes too little, too late to keep this self-serving piece of showbiz history from salvaging even the tiniest sliver of goodwill.