Dir.Cai Shangjun. China. 2007. 108mins
Already established as a highly successful screenwriter whose work with Zhang Yang on Shower and Sunflower won international kudos, Cai Shangjun steps behind the camera for the first time with a film whose theme - a father-son relationship - has
Soonghai (Yao Anlian) returns to his home village after many years in the city. His wife had died in the meantime and his teenage son Yongtao (Lu Yulai) has officially declared him dead. Spiteful and angry that his father abandoned his family and didn't even return for his wife's funeral, the son would gladly see his father dead.
When Soonghai gets a job working in the wheatfields, he asks his son to join him and after a few tense days, their relationship gradually improves as Yongtao opens up to this father and learns the reasons why he left for the city. One of their employers is a woman whom whom Soonghai suspects was once a prostitute and he offers to pay her to service Yongtao who takes offense and reacts violently. The pair are reconciled when Soonghai is laid up with a bad back, but the reconciliation doesn't last long.
While focusing on the almostmonosyllabic relationship between father and son, where expressions and gestures are far more eloquent than any dialogue, Cai also explores themes such as coming-of-age and teen rebellion as well as the fierce competition between workers in a new world of private enterprise and the migration from countryside to town leaving a landscape of ghost villages.
Nothing expresses this better than the woeful tale a woman, kidnapped years before, who returns to look for her children after discovering that there is no family waiting for her in the village where she was born.
It is all delivered with a quietly affecting subtlety which follows the slow, deliberate rhythm of the countryside. The acting is note perfect, mostly underplayed and muted and occasionally erupting with emotion. Cai deserves credit for making a film that remains so faithfully close to real life without resorting to obvious cinematic cliches.
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