Zhu Shengze’s Present.Perfect. is preceded by information about the state of live-streaming in China, making clear its overwhelming popularity in the country — there were 422 million users (known as “anchors”) in 2017. On June 1st of that year, the Cybersecurity Law of the People’s Republic of China came into effect, leading to: data localization, stricter censorship laws, and requirements for anchors to use their real names. There’s a quote from the Cyberspace Administration of P.R. China that’s included in the film, explaining the apparent fear in the homogenization of the real world and the “virtual” world. It establishes what Zhu is trying to accomplish with Present.Perfect: to push back against any negativity surrounding live-streaming and make evident how these platforms are, in fact, providing unflinching portraits of the Chinese population. That many of the anchors are far from the “exemplary” people that a country may want as national representatives (one person has muscular dystrophy, another is a burn victim, one just likes to dance in public spaces) is intentional, with Zhu showing the importance of these streaming platforms in giving everyday people a voice, and exposing others to their lives and stories.
This impact is largely felt with the film’s structure, starting with nondescript clips of construction and work life before easing into the “raw” liveblogging videos that Westerners could witness on Twitch IRL, Instagram Live, and the like. At two hours, though, Present.Perfect. is a film whose readily-understood message is outweighed by a novelty that wanes by the minute. While there’s more purpose to this film than, say, a Vine or TikTok compilation video, there’s certainly more enjoyment one can have when viewing actual live videos. Which is to say, there’s little reason to watch this film rather than simply visiting these platforms and experiencing the authenticity for oneself. There’s also less agency here than rifling through YouTube vlogs via the website’s recommendation system, as the act of moving from one video to the next on one’s own time is an act of participation in and of itself. Present.Perfect is thus an insightful film bogged down by its format: the “live” component of the subject matter proves contradictory in cinematic form, and the accessibility of live-streamed material renders the film nearly superfluous.
Originally published as part of New Directors/New Films 2019 – Dispatch 2.