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Keep Cool: Americans and Chinese Internet censorship

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Keep Cool: Xiao Shuai's not going to get the girl

In Zhang Yimou's superb film Keep Cool (有话好好说), Jiang Wen plays Xiao Shuai, a bookseller in Beijing who chases a girl named An Hong. She's not interested in him and tells him she has a new boyfriend. But he follows her back to her apartment complex, where she disappears in one of the buildings.

So the bookseller hires a migrant worker with a loud voice, played by Zhang Yimou himself, to stand underneath An Hong's apartment building and scream, with a bullhorn, "An Hong, I miss you, come out!"

His persistance is eventually rewarded with an invitation to come up to An Hong's apartment where she tells him to take off his clothes and get busy. But as soon as this happens, they hear the amplified voice of a different migrant worker (played by Zhao Benshan) screaming out a love poem that the bookseller had given to the first migrant worker. The first migrant worker hired the second one to do the job as requested by the bookseller. Unaware of the details behind the deal, the second migrant worker refuses to stop screaming when the bookseller descends from An Hong's apartment.

The bookseller loses his chance with An Hong, who is so annoyed by the bookseller's behavior that she tells her new boyfriend -- a nightclub boss who drives a big black Mercedes Benz -- that she has been hassled by the bookseller. The nightclub boss and his henchmen beat up the bookseller on the street. During the fight, a bystander, a middle-aged researcher name Lao Zhang, tries to help. The bookseller grabs Lao Zhang's bag, and ends up smashing the contents -- a brand new laptop computer. After the fight, the Lao Zhang takes the bookseller to hospital, but demands compensation for the broken computer.

After this, the story vears away from the bookseller's pursuit of An Hong as he, the researcher and the nightclub boss get drawn into a game of negotiations and revenge, with the researcher arguing about compensation contracts while the bookseller plans the murder or mutilation of the night club boss, who himself breaks it off with the girl who started all the trouble.

The starting point of the story -- the bookseller trying to get the girl -- is forgotten as everyone except An Hong ends up in a farcical fight in a restaurant involving meat cleavers, drunkeness, stolen cell phones, old ladies with anti-smoking agendas, and Lao Zhang the researcher getting into an insane rage.

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Definitely not getting the girl

If the bookseller getting the girl is freedom of expression in China, the current American media coverage of censorship issues and the congressional activism that has just begun are Keep Cool's restaurant brawl.

For booksellers stuck on the this side of the Pacific and under the nose of the Nanny, the noise coming out of the US is just so much distraction that will not get us any closer to An Hong's bed.

This is one problem that Chinese people have to solve themselves.



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