“What do I think? What do I think about what?” queries a bewildered Wang Changcun. Shortly after, a voice out of shot chimes in: “Okay, so, Guy-Marc – what is your actual question?”
The fact that Fuck You! is in a constant struggle with its raison d’etre is both its central frustration and one of its most prominent charms. Rather than stumble upon a handful of musicians that cathartically vent their aggression at “the regime” (judging by the recurrent questions posed at the film’s interviewees, this may well be what the filmmakers expected to find), Fuck You! is an eclectic bag of intense political bitterness and utter indifference. Much of the time, Guy-Marc Hinant and Dominique Lohle appear to be trying to excavate the inner punk and revolt within their subjects when in fact there is none; many of these musicians play their music out of enjoyment alone, meaning that the interviewer’s queries as to whether political motive or escapism exists within the music are often met with shrugs or tentative agreement. And while the film frequently falls clumsily into awkward silences or translation issues (turning French into Chinese and back again proves to be tricky), a certain impetus starts to arise as the film gradually mutates from “what does it all mean?” to the liberation of “does it need to mean anything at all?”
Ultimately, it’s a film about making a film. The frayed edges are left in: interviews are obscured by the backs of heads and shoulders, mic choices and potential and camera angles are openly discussed, interview questions are freely misinterpreted and criticised. The only real point at which Fuck You! becomes a sleek visual work is during the central chunk of performance footage of Torturing Nurse – shots are overlain as shots of mixing desks quiver under the sheer weight of audio velocity, as guitars, performers and microphones blur into a cacophony that slots neatly into the noise it accompanies. It’s no surprise that the performance footage is the most captivating element of Fuck You!. Whereas the interviews vary drastically in their degree of insight and interest (Sun Meng’s tale of first discovering The Beatles and Bob Dylan is a highlight, while Zbigniew Karkowski’s indulgent political lectures are a frequent turn-off), the shots of these artists in both sound check and performance are an absolute delight; sometimes caught in a gloomy, lamp-lit darkness, sometimes shrouded in a grainy-red mist that veils the performers in a sort of volcano vapour. Ironically, for all of the battling that ensues to wring significance out of the art, 30 seconds of obliterative Chinese noise proves enough to render all theorising irrelevant.