Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang is internationally renowned for his spectacular ‘explosion paintings’ and dizzying firework displays, but for more than two decades one pet project proved elusive. First attempted in Bath (of all places) back in 1994 (it was cancelled due to bad weather, predictably), ‘Sky Ladder’ is just what its name implies: a runged column of flame reaching high (500 metres) into the air.
This unfussy documentary from Kevin Macdonald (‘Touching the Void’, ‘The Last King of Scotland’) follows Cai as he sets out on his fourth attempt to make ‘Sky Ladder’ a reality. The film also takes brief detours into his past, his artistic philosophy and his controversial collaborations with the Chinese government on projects like the Opening Ceremony for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The footage of earlier (fire)works is eye-frazzling, and Cai is an affable if rather self-important host (‘Isn’t your grandson amazing?’ he asks his 100-year-old grandma). But 75 minutes isn’t really long enough to fully examine the ‘Sky Ladder’ project, let alone an incident-packed artistic career. Still, as an introduction, this is entirely serviceable.