So long, my son

So long 1

Like Jia Zhangke, Wang Xiaoshuai 王小帅 (b.1966) is part of the “sixth generation” of Chinese film-makers, for whom a fraught relationship with the censors is par for the course.

His film So long, my son (Dijiu tianchang 地久天长, 2019) is deeply moving, “negotiating an ocean of sadness”, deflecting melodrama (reviews e.g. here and here, as well as this interview).

Destroyed by grief at the loss of their son Xingxing, Yaojun and Liyun (the brilliant Wang Jingchun and Yong Mei) relocate to coastal Fujian, their pain compounded when their relationship with the boy they have adopted breaks down. Common themes of the early reform years—falling foul of the 1983 Anti Spiritual Pollution campaign, and a degrading scene illustrating the one-child policy—follow on from the depiction of Maoist-era family dramas such as To live and The blue kite (a particular favourite of mine) (see Chinese film classics of the early reform era). But just as startling is the bewildering pace of more recent change since the reforms began to bite, with factory workers laid off and dramatic changes in the physical and moral landscape—alongside “the terrible burden of grief, rage and guilt, and the greater burden of forgiveness”. The final sequence makes a harrowing yet compassionate denouement.

So long 4

Here’s the film (also currently on BBC iPlayer):

Now I’m keen to see Wang’s earlier films such as Beijing bicycle (Shiqisuide danche 十七岁的单车, 2001), Drifters (Erdi 二弟, 2003), Shanghai dreams (Qinghong 青红, 2005), and Red amnesia (Chuangruzhe 闯入者, 2014).

For comments on other recent movies from China (my “entirely futile effort to keep my finger on the pulse of Chinese popular culture”), see One second, and Return to dust, as well as the TV series Rock it, Mom.

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