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Film Review: Crossing the Border

2012-08-31 10:14:00        Chinese Films

Scene from "Crossing the Border."[Photo:filmbiz.asia]

Contemporary light drama

2012, colour, 16:9, 91 mins

Directed by Zhang Zeming

Modest but well-observed love story set in Yunnan, with a revelation in newcomer Liu Zhihan. Asian events, plus some ancillary potential.

Story

Yunnan province, southern China, the present day. On a coach to Yunshui township, Gui (Li Mincheng) bumps into local girl Ning Xiaoju (Liu Zhihan) when some layabouts, led by local rich kid Wuyi (Wei Daxun), force him to give up his seat for her - an offer she doesn't accept, as she can't stand Wuyi. Gui has come a long distance to meet the shady Long (Zhao Wensheng), but Long is away on business and asks him to wait a few days. By chance, Gui takes a room in a private house owned by Yufen (Zhang Huiling), Xiaoju's mother, who has been raising Xiaoju and her younger brother Xiaobing (Ding Jiali) on her own since her husband ran off with another woman. While waiting for an acceptance letter from Zhongshan University, Guangzhou, to study journalism, Xiaoju sells vegetables with her grandmother (Chen Abao) in the town's market to help pay the bills. Xiaoju suspects the letter has arrived but her mother has destroyed it, as the family has no money to fund her studies. Long finally arrives in town and Gui gives him some money he's been carrying; Long says he cannot arrange anything at the moment, as things are "sensitive". Gui finally manages to win Xiaoju's friendship after giving her the acceptance letter that he discovered by chance in his room. He even manages to bond with Wuyi after making it clear he won't fight him for Xiaoju's affections. He also asks Wuyi for a loan of RMB10,000 (US$1,500), saying his mother is sick. But as the time approaches for Gui to leave the township, Xiaoju becomes more and more fond of him, as well as taking a career decision that affects her future.

Review

Made for China Movie Channel but with theatrical showings in mind, Crossing the Border is the first feature by Guangzhou-raised, Hong Kong-based writer-director ZHANG Zeming since Foreign Moon (1996). Best known for his debut Swan Song (1986), one of the first Fifth Generation movies to critique China's value shifts during the '80s, Zhang briefly re-emerged a few years ago with the Lanzhou-to-Everest oldies biking documentary, Across the Plateau (2007), co-directed with d.p. Paul LIU, but then disappeared off the radar again. Inspired by a true story that happened in Hubei province, but here transferred to the southern province of Yunnan, Crossing marks a significant return by Zhang to feature-length fiction — a well-played relationships triangle that has something of his delicate female-love story Sun and Rain (1988) in its surface simplicity masking unspoken undercurrents.

Zhang shows he's lost none of his special touch for easygoing emotional observation in the intervening years, as well as his distinctive nostalgia for traditional values while embracing contemporary change. Change is the common element in the lives of Crossing's characters, as a passing stranger in a southern town precipitates decisions that affect all their lives. Though it looks simple on the surface, the film gradually constructs an interesting web of inter-relationships in which everyone's actions carry consequences for others. Most importantly, it shows that change and renewal are possible in people's outlooks — a didactic message that may seem old-fashioned when compared with some of New China's more aggressive productions but none the worse for that, especially when handled in a believable way by the script and performances.

As the outsider who, for his own reasons, patiently endures the calumnies of locals while nudging them towards a better life, LI Mincheng (Baby Don't Cry), a theatre actor recently signed with Huayi Brothers, shows screen presence but not much personality. Driving the movie, and the revelation of it, is young graduate actress LIU Zhihan, 21, in only her second professional role after TV movie The Dream of My Elder (, 2009). In a big leap from her playing of the elder sister in that rural drama, Liu starts as just a routine sulky teen but gradually makes the purposeful Xiaoju bloom into a likeable character who falls for the mystery stranger but also has an eye on her own future. Also notable in the flashiest role is WEI Daxun, who sprang to attention in the China version of internet drama Sofia's Diary (, 2008), as a local layabout whose attraction to her is not reciprocated.

Delicate scoring by ZHAO Jiang  — strings, wind, solo cello — and clean, untouristy photography of locations around Dali by WANG Yuandong complete a professional package, shot in 18 days on a modest budget. The much more suitable Chinese title roughly means An Unusual Love. Version reviewed here is the director's cut; the slightly shorter producers' version broadcast by CMC ends on a sunnier note, omitting all material after the prison meeting and kite-shop dream.

Source: Film Business Asia

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