Details: 100 mins, China, People's Republic of,
Synopsis: Zhao Po, a poor university student, had a crush on Yin Qi, a beautiful and smart university girl from a rich family. Zhao Po dared not to express himself due to discrepancies in status. Later, he gets to know Gan Xiu, a girl working in hair salon, and they gradually fall for one another. But Zhao Po can't help feeling that she is not the girl of his dreams.
Melodrama lessens impact of otherwise punchy thriller.
SYDNEY CHINESE FILM FESTIVAL: The ‘distant thunder’ of this odd, moving and strange film could be a bad memory, the kind where we become obsessed by what is only a half-thought. Like coming out of a deep sleep, groggy and disoriented, the details of the experience expose something important, yet the precise meaning remains painfully out of reach. Or perhaps the title is like a half-remembered dream, which is something altogether different to a memory. In the case of a dream, it haunts the mind with tell tale details from waking life, but is confusing precisely because it seems to be a foreshadowing of something important.
This stuff is pretty much Freudian 101, especially so here since sex, repression and a lot of water play major supporting roles in this psychological thriller. Here director Zhang Jiarui dives into a cinematic swirl of nightmare flashbacks, fantasy projections and alternate realities. Captured digitally, the film has a really fascinating texture; a little plastic, a bit ethereal, perhaps too over-blown. The film is actually at its best when there is absolute confusion between what’s real and what’s fantasy in the eyes of the film’s troubled anti-hero, Po (Guo Xiaoran).
As long as the film resists the lure of psychological realism, Distant Thunder has punch; it makes us active participants in the action. Everyone here is confused by sexual mores, their past and possible futures. Sadly, the film’s spell is broken once Jiaru decides to put poor old Po on the cinematic equivalent of a therapy couch. Still, there’s a really gripping (and rather harsh) last-reel twist that redeems the film’s momentary lapse into fatuous and phoney shrink-speak.
A poor farmer’s boy, Po is engaged in work-study in the big city and, disturbed by memories of an abusive and traumatic childhood, he endures episodes of psychic disturbance, triggered by a sound, a harsh word, a colour.
At first Jiaru and screenwriter Qiu Daianping seem to be setting up a character study with a strong and sympathetic portrait of class in big city China. A lot of the early scenes etch out the day-to-day details of life as a poor boy in a university full of rich kids; have a coffee with co-eds becomes a humiliating game of status one-upmanship.
Infatuated and rejected by a rich girl student, Po starts dating a salon-girl Gan Xiu (Huo Siyan). Apparently in this culture, ‘salon girl’ seems an analogue for ‘prostitute,' which is why Po tries to pass-off Gan Xiu as a co-ed to his two thuggish pals.
At about the half way point, the film, which til then has been mysterious, fast moving and buoyed by some nice light relief, takes a very dark turn that is impossible to talk about in a review in detail since it gives the game away.
Mental and emotional illness is a notoriously tricky subject and Jiaru and co. seem sincere. But sadly they, like so many filmmakers everywhere, pump up the action with melodramatic conventions that flatten out the conflicts into pious declarations full of despair and pessimism that does not have the kick of tragedy.
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