A shotgun shatters the silence of the countryside in China, forcing European artist Thomas to dive for cover. This begins the first of a series of cultural clashes between him and Mao, his poor (in every sense) host. Neither speaks each other’s language resulting in much comedic misunderstanding, mockery and prankery.
Mao’s hovel is built along a shallow lake (which never existed before director Wen had a brook dammed for the film) on sparse mountainside scrub, an isolated dreamlike setting. The pair are not alone: a ghostly woman in black fights an eternal sword battle against a man in white and a fireside conversation on life elsewhere precedes an alien visitation.
The film switches to modern day China as Mao is now the artist, painting a huge portrait of Thomas, who converses with him in Chinese. Of course they are interrupted by a man claiming to be an alien. The director has had a long fascination with this real life pair and Thomas Mao is his poetic rumination on their friendship. Wen playfully merges fact and fiction, dreams and reality in whimsical and profound Thomas Mao.
Intermedias reviewer at VIFF 2010
Directed by Zhu Wen