Director: Feng Xiaogang
Cast: Huang Xuan, Yang Caiyu, Xu Fan, Lydia Peckham
Runtime: 132 minutes
Rating: PG13 (Some Coarse Language)
Released By: Clover Films
Opening Day: 9 January 2020
Synopsis: Dongfeng is a middle-aged man living in New Zealand. He has been suffering from sorrow and loneliness ever since the death of his beloved wife, Yun. Unable to overcome his grief, Dongfeng instead decides to retrace the journey he shared with Yun and fulfil a dream that she never had the chance to.
There is a sequence in this romantic drama which involves the protagonists grieving over their dying pet dog. The couple looks sad and delivers melancholic lines while the poor animal whimpers lifelessly. This scene may have lasted about 10 minutes. In the hands of a less capable director (and also less impressive actors), this supposedly moving scene would have been a pain to watch.
The 132 minute film is mostly made up of such emotional scenes, and they are dealt with effectively, thanks to China’s Feng Xiaogang, who has made a name for making movies which ensure box office success. He may have made arthouse favourites like I Am Not Madame Bovary (2016) and Youth (2017), but he has also delivered mainstream blockbusters like Assembly (2007) and Aftershock (2010).
If you have watched the abovementioned titles, you would realise that he has successfully dabbled with films of different genres. What about romance? We haven’t mentioned that two of his most commercially successful works are If You Are the One (2008) and its 2010 sequel. And that’s why we are not surprised that the 61 year old filmmaker is the man behind this sappy love story about a Chinese couple’s earnest but heart wrenching tale.
We are introduced to Sui Dongfeng (Huang Xuan) at the beginning of the film, who has an English name Simon because he is living in Auckland. He is trying to summon the ghost of his wife Luo Yun (Yang Caiyu), who also has an English name Jennifer. Things feel woeful, and we feel that there is much sorrow in the air. As the story progresses, we see how the couple met, married and eventually parted ways in life.
The story unfolds in two main sections: the first happens in time, where the newlyweds move to a small town and open a Chinese restaurant (they also meet a chirpy local who works as a waitress and becomes their very good friend), while the second covers the couple’s journey as young immigrants to Aucklandfrom Beijing. These backdrops are perfect for the film to take place in picturesque locations, and coupled with an emotive music score, there is really nothing to fault about the film’s technical aspects.
Much of the film’s plot is predictable, but you will be engaged throughout as the characters are played with conviction by Huang and Yang, who have worked with Feng on the nostalgic coming of age drama Youth. You care for the couple while they trudge through life together as Chinese diaspora. You can expect episodes which illustrate the challenges brought about by cultural differences. As an Asian, you’d root for them and hope they make it through the difficulties.
Cynics may feel that this is a story that lacks cleverness, but when the film ends and you realise it is largely based on the life of Feng’s filmmaking colleague, you can’t help but applaud the sincerity that comes through a fairly straightforward film that you have invested your feelings in for more than two hours.
(Huang Xuan and Yang Caiyu deliver strong performances in a sincere production helmed by the ever-reliable Feng Xiaogang)
Review by John Li