Writer: Liu Qingling and Wei Shujun
Director: Wei Shujun
Buying a car brings all kinds of problems to Kun’s door in this rambling drama from Wei Shujun. The jeep may be a symbol of America in this film set in Beijing, but it’s always breaking down and costing Kun money that he doesn’t have. He dreams of getting out of the city, driving the jeep to Inner Mongolia to see the real country. But in Shujun’s film, the line between what is real and what is simulacrum is questioned.
Kun is a film student at a university in Beijing, but he doesn’t take class too seriously. He sits in the back room of the classroom with his friend Tong tipping the cam girls on their phones. Meanwhile the professor teaches his students the best way to hold a sound boom. The two friends take little notice and anyway Tong has just landed a job for a director who think he’s Wong Kar-wai.
Despite his lessons Tong discovers that he is not good at holding the boom and so ropes in Kun to help him. Neither gets paid, as director Ming suggests that they see the work as unpaid internships where they can gain experience. The film that they all work on is about a young country girl who goes to the city to find her husband who works on the funfair. Ming is a precocious director, working without a script and sweet-talking the lead, telling her that her character should hear horses in her heart.
And that is it really when it comes to plot. There’s an amusing episode when Kun and Tong work for a singer called High$eas, and try to flog his CDs – 100 songs, 100 poems – to their fellow university students, but this doesn’t pay well enough to fix all the jeep’s problems. It looks like they will never get to Inner Mongolia.
As slack-jawed Kun, Zhou You is very watchable, and his confident performance somewhat tempers the 130- minute running time. He’s guileless even when he’s being underhand, and when his girlfriend’s father sits him in front of a computer to start applying for mundane office jobs, his hang-dog face is a joy. Tong Ling Kai plays his good-hearted sidekick Tong, and together the two are entertaining, but despite their chemistry Wei Shujun never goes down the Buddy Movie route.
Neither is the film a Road Movie, as the journey to Inner Mongolia is not Shujun’s focus, and therein lies the problem: the film lacks direction. The lack of consequence may well reflect the drifting lives of Kun and Tong, but it doesn’t make for interesting viewing. The film’s theme of authenticity is almost drowned out by Kun’s aimless hustling.
This is Shujun’s first feature, and while there is a stubborn humour to some of the filmmaking scenes, especially those on urban grasslands, he still needs to find his feet a little. The wandering nature of the story eventually wanders too far, and we can only hope that he worked with a script unlike Ming, his fictional director. But if he didn’t, it may explain a lot.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from 7 to 18 October