Wei Shujun has actually become a Cannes regular, with “Ripples of Life” becoming his third film to screen there. Through an approach that combines intense arthouse aesthetics, the favorite meta concept of the film about film, semi-autobiographical elements, the trademark deadpan sense of humor so many Chinese movies exhibit accompanied by much irony, Wei seems to provide exactly what festivals are looking for in Asian movies.
The film “Ripples of Life” will be featured at Asian Pop Up Cinema.
The story is divided into three parts, all centered around the making of an upscale movie in a distant town called Yong’an. The first part follows the actual filming process, with the main focus on Xiao Gu, a waitress at her in-laws’ restaurant who regularly serves the film crew. Xiao Gu is dissatisfied with her life, as she also has a newborn baby whom her husband does not assist in caring for. Meanwhile, her mother-in-law constantly criticizes her. As expected, when the director of the film’s behind-the-scenes footage takes interest in her, Xiao Gu eagerly seizes the chance to have a small role.
In the second chapter, Chen Chen, a well-known figure in the town, returns to her hometown. Despite her attempts to keep a low profile, her arrival is met with much fanfare from both the local authorities who throw celebrations and her old friends who claim to want to catch up but end up asking for a favor.
The third chapter centers on the struggles between the script-writer and director, as they clash over the writing process. Meanwhile, the mounting pressure on the crew as the script remains incomplete becomes increasingly tangible. Wei involves producers, critics, sponsors, and even Chen Chen in an effort to finish the script, leading to added complications.
Also, make sure to take a look at this interview.
Throughout the three sections, Wei offers various insights that reach beyond the realm of cinema. For instance, in the first section, he delves into the status of women in Chinese society, particularly how they bear the weight of family responsibilities. Xiao Gu becomes the primary voice of these observations, and her character demonstrates how cinema can serve as an escape. However, Wei makes sure to shatter any illusions with a tragicomic tone that is characteristic of the film’s humor. Xiao Gu, played by Huang Miyi, delivers an impressive performance, skillfully portraying her character’s disappointment, hope, and disillusionment. The scenes where she realizes there is a glimmer of hope and her demeanor transforms are some of the most memorable in the movie.
In the second chapter, the topic of “coming-back” is explored, specifically how individuals from small towns react to those who have left and become successful. Chen Chen’s celebrity status only amplifies this concept. At first, everyone is eager to welcome her back, but eventually the mindset of these places takes over and people begin to ask for favors, such as being featured in her movies or being introduced to producers. This behavior, fueled by jealousy and a desire to exploit her, further emphasizes the idea of returning home being unbearable at times. The scenes where she meets with an ex-boyfriend and their reunion turns from potentially romantic to anger and disgust are also notable moments in the film. Yang Zishan’s portrayal of a character who tries to remain kind and polite in the face of these challenges is impressive until she reaches her breaking point.
The first two sections of the text also contain a meta-film element, showcasing the inner workings of the movie industry and the desires of those involved. The third section, however, focuses on the actual process of making a film, portraying the constant conflicts between a director striving for brilliance and a scriptwriter seeking sincerity in a realistic manner. The influence of third parties on the relationship between the two, such as Chen Chen pushing for her role to be written and a critic openly siding with the director, adds to the suffocating atmosphere depicted by Wei in a tragicomic manner. The repeated mention of Chinese cinema’s importance is ironic, as is the overall approach which effectively highlights the chaotic nature of film production.
The chemistry between the two actors is superb, with Wei skillfully bringing out their rapport. As the director, Liu Yang portrays a charismatic boss to those below him and a dutiful employee to those above him. However, his belief in his control is repeatedly shattered, adding a touch of tragicomedy to his character. Kang Chunlei, the actual scriptwriter of “Ripples of Life,” delivers an entertaining performance, especially in the way he conveys his mounting frustration. He also has some of the best lines in the entire film, most likely because he wrote them himself.
Wei’s approach in this film has many similarities to Hong Sang-soo’s style, including the use of dialogue, drinking, fighting, and deadpan humor. The director even pokes fun at this by having the making-of director flirt with Xiao Gu and compare her to Kim Min-hee. However, the visual aspect of the film is even more impressive than Hong Sang-soo’s work. DP Wang Jiehong presents a series of stunning images, especially in the first part of the movie where his framing and coloring are flawless. He also cleverly uses actual windows to frame scenes, capturing the essence of life in the small, impoverished town. The editing by Matthieu Laclau maintains a leisurely pace that suits the art-house style of the film, and the transitions between chapters are connected in a way that completes a full circle.
The film “Ripples of Life” is a clever and witty work of art, combining European aesthetics with a distinct Chinese influence in its locations, characters, and themes. However, on a personal level, it would be refreshing to see a mainland film set in a community that is not portrayed as impoverished.