Saturday, January 28, 2012

Zhang Yuan's Seventeen Years is a sad story of redemption, and it's very good

Yesterday I watched Zhang Yuan's Seventeen Years at The Hutong as part of Time Out Beijing's Spring Festival film series. Props to Time Out film editor Wang Ge, who's been spot on with his picks so far. Made under the auspices of state sponsors, the movie nonetheless succeeds on several counts, most significantly a final two minutes -- capped by the most perfectly timed cut-to-black -- that are positively wonderful.

It's a simple story, but very well told. There's a great scene in the middle of the film that I can't believe I haven't seen in any other movie: the two protagonists try to cross a street in Tianjin, and it's shot in such a way that conveys the exact meaning of "urban jungle," especially for one that's been locked away for an extended length of time. The scene is well executed. That's what I'd say about the whole film, actually: it's just well done. Maybe not great across the board, but certainly good, with flickers of greatness. It's the type of movie I wish would get more publicity in China. As is, Seventeen Years won several international film awards, but wasn't even nominated for anything domestically.

The last thing I want to point out is that the Chinese title of this film is 过年回家 [Guonian Huijia], translated literally as "Going home for New Year's." I haven't figured out if it's a straightforward title or if it might be imbued with the same kind of meaning as "Seventeen Years." The English title implies the loss of the best years of one's life, and time itself as prison and punishment; the Chinese title implies a new start, which happens to coincide with a new year. The two probably work in synchrony.

Tonight, The Hutong is showing Last Train Home (been sold out for a while). Director Fan Lixin is supposed to be present. I'll probably have something to say about it afterwards.

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