During the Cultural Revolution, Qinghong’s parents took up Mao Zedong’s call for a Third Line of Defense by relocating from Shanghai to work at factories on a rural outpost in the Guizhou Province. Years later, their ever-dimming hope of returning home has been re-channeled into the raising of their daughter, believing that their best prospects for their children’s re-integration into the city lies in Qinghong (Gao Yuanyuan) obtaining a college education and maintaining their social separation from the provincial locals. But Qinghong’s sentiments for her adoptive hometown is less entrenched, having become accustomed to the quiet rhythms of the bucolic town (a familiarity of ritual reflected in the recurring images of her morning exercises at school and her clandestine meetings with a local young man who works as a mill apprentice). Driven to near obsession to spare his children from repeating the disappointments and failures of his own frustrated life in exile and encouraged by recent political developments that seemingly point towards an opportunity for relocated workers to finally return home to Shanghai, Qinghong’s father becomes increasingly intrusive in his daughter’s budding romance and drives a wedge between the two in preparation for what he believes will be their impending departure, unwittingly setting the stage for the reluctant young couple’s conflicted farewell. Using predominantly medium shots and incorporating recurring long shot landscape images to create a pervasive sense of distance and estrangement, Wang Xiaoshuai evokes the resigned nostalgia of uprooting and perpetual exile of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Time to Live and the Time to Die and Jia Zhang-ke’s attention for quotidian details that humorously encapsulate provincial youth culture (most notably, Platform) in Shanghai Dreams to create an understated, yet compelling and incisive tale of displacement, consuming obsession, and failed idealism.
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