What is fortune but the timely collisions of people? In Fortune Teller, a candid and deeply revelatory look at individuals living on the fringes of Chinese society, the consequences of these collisions are unflinchingly peeled back and observed.
Li Baicheng is a charismatic fortune teller whose clientele consists mainly of prostitutes and shadowy figures. His job, like theirs, is commonplace but technically illegal in China. He practices his ancient craft in a village near Beijing while taking care of his deaf and mentally handicapped wife, Pearl, whom he rescued from familial mistreatment.
Winter brings a police crackdown on both fortune tellers and prostitutes, forcing Li and Pearl into temporary exile, during which they visit their hometowns and confront old family demons. The irony lies in the fortunes Li and the others so eagerly hand out, which remain out of reach for themselves.
In Fortune Teller, Xu Tong continues his work documenting the members of China’s underclass, whose lives have gone largely unnoticed during the country’s boom years. Xu spent a year filming nearly every detail of Li’s daily existence and the ancient spiritual practices he administers. The camera catches every raw and familiar strand of human desire in these ordinary people’s extraordinary lives, at once epic and startling. Li’s humble story is punctuated by chapter headings reminiscent of Qing Dynasty popular fiction, further adding to the sheen of melodrama that so readily imitates real life.
– Grace Wang