Lead singer of alternative rock band Second Hand Roses, Liang Long has been a sometimes controversial figure previously known for his shaved head and androgynous appearance often appearing onstage in female clothing and heavy makeup. Ironically enough Zhang Yaoyuan’s documentary ON STAGE (登場, Dēngchǎng) captures him mostly off, now with a full head of hair as he prepares for a New Year concert in his home area of Shenyang in the North East while simultaneously shooting a movie later released as No Problem directed by Looking For Lucky’s Jiang Jiachen.  

Zhang also hails from the North East and the area does seem to be important to the film, a banner above the stage at one point bearing the message “Develop the North East” with the film crew also wondering if their film can help do the same only for Liang to correct them that “revive” might be better than “develop” seeing as the area had been prosperous in the past but is now struggling without the oil industry. Meanwhile, he’s joined in the discussion by Wang Hongwei, star of Jia Zhangke’s Xiao Wu which the pair later reference while lamenting the decline of the North East before going on to describe the modern day Hegang as a kind of film city but not in an altogether good way each scandalised that apartments are so cheap it’s more cost effective for film crews to buy rather than rent even if they make a loss when they sell at the end of the shoot. Meanwhile, the gang later go on tour paying a visit to the China–North Korea Friendship Bridge in Dandong with two crew members engaging in separate mini rants about North Korea tricking China into paying more than their fare share by pulling out early. 

In any case, Liang is certainly cineliterate, shooting a Wong Kar-Wai-esque intro video for his upcoming concert set to Quizás, Quizás, Quizás and featuring a woman walking sadly through the streets. Another crew member decides to have another pop at Japanese directors, mystified by their admiration for natural light having sworn off ever working with Shunji Iwai again because he wanted to do things his own way. Doing things his own way is however something that’s very important to Liang as he explains to a caller on a radio show “I must keep my style from inside to outside”. The caller had somewhat impolitely explained that she originally thought his eccentric appearance seemed “nutty” but later came to understand it wondering if it’s something that Liang was doing deliberately only for him to answer that he’s fine with people describing him as crazy because he knows he’s “normal”. “When I’m in an artistic state, everything goes natural. Nothing weird” he adds, implying that his appearance is merely the purest expression of his artistic intent though it’s true enough that others may not always approve of his use of makeup or androgynous dress. Nevertheless, the concerts seem to attract a coterie of diehard fans copying his style often dressing in rose-patterned shirts and dresses with wigs and makeup, Liang later asking a photographer to go out and film them because he says they enjoy being appreciated. 

Liang does indeed seem to be a savvy operator, also interacting with his fans through live streaming which he describes as more difficult than performing onstage though he does seem pretty nervous hanging around in the wings waiting for the intro to finish ahead of his big New Year concert. Meanwhile, he’s frequently seen taking photo ops with fans and family members of the crew, in general pleasant to be around if occasionally impatient never grandstanding or pushing his fame but hanging out with his crew drinking and swapping stories. Even so he’s scathing when asked for recommendations of contemporary bands complaining that there’s “no one worth respecting” because most are artistically stagnant trading on past glory rather than coming up with new ideas. Stagnancy is not perhaps something of which you could accuse him given how incredibly busy he seems to be in just this short period of his life, never really stopping between rehearsing for the New Year show, shooting the movie, and live streaming for his fans. Shot in a crisp black and white, Zhang’s observational documentary frames him a garrulous yet contemplative man perhaps most at home onstage in the most natural state of his pure artistic vision. 

ON STAGE screened as part of Osaka Asian Film Festival 2022

Original trailer (Japanese subtitles only)

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