Jun 27, 2018
Welcome back to Worldwide Wednesdays. This week, we’re heading from Spain to the Chinese mainland, with a different kind of relationship drama. China is one of the fastest developing film industries and theater markets right now, although they have also had quite a history in film making, and some of the greatest talents. So far, we’ve only covered one other Chinese film, Episode #133 (“Manhunt”), another Netflix Original by John Woo. Got other suggestions for viewing? Head over to onemoviepunch.com and let us know.
Today’s movie is “Us and Them” (2018), the Netflix Original Chinese drama written and directed by Rene Liu. The film follows Jian Qing (Boran Jing) and Xiao Xiao (Dongyu Zhou), two strangers who meet on a train during the 2007 Chunyun Period, the largest annual human migration for Chinese families visiting during the New Year, and again after ten years. The film moves between the two time periods, and over the course of those ten years as their relationship evolves and each partner changes, set against the backdrop of contemporary China.
One of the reasons I enjoy watching films outside the United States is to get a peek into the cultures of other countries and regions. My upbringing was filled with very little education about other cultures, not surprising in this country. Most of my impressions of China were based social and racist backlash to manufacturing being moved overseas and rampant fearmongering about how terrible they have it compared to us. Not even Big Bird going to China was enough to overcome the bias. In fact, it wasn’t until being introduced to the Chinese film scene years ago that I started to expand my horizons and challenge my own notions.
“Us and Them”, if nothing else, provides a peak into the working class life of two young adults trying to succeed in life and love in Beijing. And their story is not unlike many stories of rural Americans moving to urban environments after college, filled with ambition and a desire to overcome their living standards. The language might be different and the living conditions might be feel a bit more squalid, but the story feels familiar, which makes this film a good pick for discovering modern China.
My main criticism with this film, however, is that it is almost too epic for the story being told. Ten years is a long time to cover for any film, even with a two hour running time, and watching a relationship form and dissolve and reflect back on itself doesn’t really fill either the time period or the running time. It is also unbalanced, focusing a lot on their meeting and initial years, then rushing through the breakup and years that followed. It doesn’t take away from the great performances or some great sets and scenes or a pretty direct use of film editing to move the story in neat ways. But it can, at times, feel long, and strangely, at times, rushed.
“Us and Them” (2018) is a long, but insightful Chinese drama, allowing us a peak into the changing nature of family and romantic relationships as China continues to urbanize and capitalize. Boran Jing and Dongyu Zhou bring their characters to life with complex, emotional performances that challenge existing internal social norms and external perceptions. Fans of international cinema, or folks looking for a street-level look at Modern China should definitely check out this film. Just be sure to set aside enough time.
Rotten Tomatoes: NR
One Movie Punch: 7.6/10
“Us and Them” (2018) is rated TV-MA and is currently streaming on Netflix.