The Fourth Brother
Release year: 2013
Run time: 86 min
Film type: Documentary
This dark, black-and-white documentary is an intimate portrait of a man who has spent half his life in prison. Following his release, he is now back to his old tricks in an industrial city in northeastern China. We are introduced to him by his sister, who visits him in the house where he lives with his wife. She explains that Fourth Brother, or Si Ge, as she calls him, disappeared when she was seven or eight and they only met again 20 years later. The camera follows the brother’s exploits and records his elaborate descriptions of pickpocketing techniques and stories about how he ended up in jail: a game of mahjong got out of hand and turned into a fight involving Fourth Brother’s gang, and people got killed. In jail, he managed to avoid police bullying and outright torture by the highly inventive but nonetheless gruesome method of self-mutilation. But now there is drinking and smoking and laughing to be done, and at times the viewer forgets for a moment just how hopeless this existence really is.
Xu Tong was born in 1965 in Beijing, and majored in news photography at the Communications University of China. He describes himself as a vagabond filmmaker, as his filmmaking focuses on those who live on the margins of the society, often outside the law, in northern China. He uses his camera to express sympathy and even empathy with the marginality and defiant nonconformity of many of his subjects.