Saturday, March 30, 2019

Debutant director Bai Xue's The Crossing compares favorably with John Woo's same-titled movies (Film review)

The director of this film (in the green shirt) and some cast members
(along with a HKIFF staffer) at a fest post-screening Q&A
The Crossing (Mainland China-Hong Kong, 2018)
- Part of the Hong Kong International Film Festival's Young Cinema Competition (Chinese Language) program
- Bai Xue, director and co-scriptwriter (with Lin Meiju)
- Starring: Huang Yao, Sunny Sun, Carmen Tong (aka Carmen Soup), Elena Kong
On the morning that I was scheduled to attend a HKIFF screening of this first feature film from Beijing Film Academy graduate Bai Xue, a London-based Finnish friend posted on Facebook that she had seen it in a cinema in the British capital.  That, more than The Crossing being executive produced by Tian Zhuangzhuang (who had been Bai's professor at the film academy), and more than this cross-border drama having won Best Film and Best Actress awards at the Pingyao International Film Festival, got me realizing that it's actually far more than your standard Chinese indie movie by a fledgling filmmaker.

With a protagonist who lives in Shenzhen but attends secondary school by day in Hong Kong, The Crossing shines a light on the thousands of children who cross the Mainland China-Hong Kong border twice daily every single school day.  With her Cantonese-speaking father (Liu Kai Chi) in Hong Kong and her Putonghua-speaking mother (Ni Hongjie) in Shenzhen (and presumably divorced from each other), bilingual 16-year-old Peipei (Huang Yao) could be said to have a foot in two worlds.  She also has both a Hong Kong identity card and Shenzhen residency, which makes it have the perfect paper credentials to be a mule smuggling sought-after smartphones and more across from Hong Kong over to Shenzhen.
Seeking to come by extra cash to finance a Japanese winter holiday with her poor little rich girl Hong Konger friend Jo (credited in the film as Carmen Soup!), she is introduced to a smuggling operation that Jo's noodle seller boyfriend Hao (Sunny Sun) is involved in that's run by a formidable woman (Elena Kong) who Peipei starts looking up to in a way that she can't do so with her rather pathetic gambling addict mother.  But even while this criminal subplot does take up quite a bit of screentime, it's also pretty obvious that The Crossing also is intent on examining the phenomenon and psychology of folks like Peipei, who are citizens of the People's Republic of China but seem to have few social ties there, not least because they have spent more of their waking hours south of the Mainland China-Hong Kong border, yet still can't and don't fully feel like they belong or entirely fit in Hong Kong either.
Director Bai Xue says that she only learnt about kids being used to transport illegal merchandise from Hong Kong to Shenzhen (an occurence that also crops up in Jevons Au's Distinction) three years ago.  Upon investigating this phenomenon, she became interested in the larger question of these cross-boundary children.  Fluent in Cantonese and Putonghua herself, and raised in Shenzhen from age six, it's obvious from this film that she very much empathizes and sympathizes with this group of young people and their lot.
While it is not a documentary, there are many details in -- and aspects to -- The Crossing that come across as very real and authentic; sometimes to the detriment of one being entertained by the movie.  By this, I mean that I didn't only find myself feeling sad for Peipei but also the actual human beings out there who lead lives like hers.  At the same time, I totally am bowled over by the strength of Bai Xue's research work, and also by her impressive helming of a movie that compares very favorably with another Chinese language film entitled The Crossing (that one directed by John Woo), and puts that 2015 work's subpar sequel --- also directed by John Woo -- to shame.
My rating for this film: 8.0  

No comments: