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Who is the culprit

In order to be able to function properly within a social context, people need to benefit from a basic array of rights and freedoms. Normally, they should have the right to associate for a cause, to uphold their system of beliefs, and to openly criticise national authorities in the event that they should find a reason to do so. However, communist societies are totalitarian by definition and have always been associated with breaches of all the above-mentioned principles, and much, much more.


‘Who is the Culprit’ revolves around Christian religious persecution in China under the orders of the Chinese Communist Party. It showcases the brutal oppression and interrogation methods, coupled with propaganda campaigns by the communist party, traits which can, of course, be generalized to many other countries which have suffered under communist reigns, especially in Eastern Europe and South America. The documentary chronicles the detaining, interrogation, torture and killing of Zhou Haijiang, a peaceful and loving man, singularly due to his religious affiliation, and the resulting crisis in which his family is thrown into by the brutal actions of the state.


One characteristic of this documentary is that it relies less on factual narration and information, and more on the humane side of the story. This is both good and bad at the same time: while it indeed manages to get its audience more involved in the great drama unfolding on the screen, sympathising with the family’s suffering and therefore placing the practice of politically-motivated oppression into perspective, it misses some hard facts, especially given its runtime of more than half an hour. The plethora of scenes involving dramatic crying could have at least partly been replaced by more factual elements and story arcs which further delve into the terrible practices utilized by the Chinese Communist Party, and less centered on this one family drama.


On the visual side, the film is excellently shot and features some beautiful frames from rural China which really set the scene and exhibit a high degree of artistic good taste. ‘Who is the Culprit’ is equally well edited, and the story flows in a continuous and smooth manner, without any noticeable errors that break immersion. It is also well-acted for the most part, although slightly over-acted at times: after a while, viewers will discover the film’s propensity to overly rely on prolonged moments of dramatic emotional outbursts, which occur a bit too frequently in an attempted injection of tragedy. At first, it is effective, but when it happens again and again and again, these moments lose part of their appeal. Equally, the narration is pleasant and involved but occurs almost ubiquitously – perhaps a more balanced approach would have worked better.


All in all, however, despite lacking equilibrium in some areas, ‘Who is the Culprit’ remains a very astute portrait of repression in China under the supervision of the Chinese Communist Party. The story it presents is a heartfelt and humane representation of a family drama, and many very similar examples where a far-left dictatorship oppresses its people and permanently damages their lives can be found, both in China and elsewhere. 

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