“I said ‘Fuck, were all the Chinese composers dead?’ I wanted to find a kind of music that we could sing in the Square under such circumstances. I had no idea what it was, but it had to exist. Something began to grow in my mind. Later, I discovered that this was rock ’n’ roll.”
These are the words of Hou Muren, a 60-year-old composer and rock musician, from the beginning of documentary My Dad’s a Rocker, directed by his daughter Hou Zuxin.
The film won the Best Short Documentary award at the 30th Warsaw International Film Festival and the Best Student Documentary prize in the 30th International Documentary Awards in 2014, yet it’s recently reached a much wider audience in China thanks to an appearance earlier this month by Zuxin on the second season of Who Can Who Up (奇葩大会), a popular reality show produced by MEWE Media and aired on iQiyi.com. The single episode that the millennial director is in has been watched over 45 million times according to the official data on the platform.
The film features appearances from renowned Chinese rock pioneers He Yong and Zhang Chu, as well as the “Father of Chinese Rock” (a title he often bears reluctantly), Cui Jian. Cui is perhaps most famous for his song “Nothing to My Name” (watch below), and for being an influential figure among the student protests of the late ’80s, when he would often perform political anthem “A Piece of Red Cloth” while blindfolded.
Unsung heroes of China’s early rock movement also appear, such as Wu Hailing, a former music producer and magazine editor, who helped put Cui on the bill for the 100-Singer Concert of Year of International Peace at Beijing’s Workers’ Stadium in 1986, which is often viewed as the first public performance of Chinese rock music.
But it’s Muren who is at the heart of the film. My Dad’s a Rocker not only shows his role in the pioneering of rock ‘n’ roll in China, but also details his recovery from a massive stroke since 2010. With his daughter asking the questions, it’s an often emotional look at Muren’s determination and “rock spirit”. The soundtrack for the film, composed by Muren, is entitled ”Living Like a Fucking Moron”, but there’s a captivating tenderness and intelligence to the story.
“There were many times I was crying behind the camera while listening to him,” Zuxin told Filmdoo in an interview last year.
At one point the young director asks her father “what is rock ‘n’ roll?”. He replies simply, “rock ‘n’ roll is… to live.”
Watch the trailer:
Cover photo from My Dad’s a Rocker Facebook page.
Find more films about Chinese rock here:
Click-through: Online Archive of Chinese Rock Docs
We highlight our top stories each week in an email newsletter that goes out every Monday - hot, fresh, and straight to your inbox.
Don't worry, we don't spam