Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Jul 11, 2017 12:53 pm 
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A time travel youth adventure for millennials

Maggie Lee of Variety says the most notable thing about Duckweed, by China's "superstar writer-blogger" Han Han, is "its absolute predictability." Lest that seem a bummer, let us say that it's quite fun and probably not so predictable for non-China film specialists. It's about millennials, and their attitude toward the past, which it depicts though a sci-fi story whereby the protagonist goes back to the 1990's.

The time-traveler is a racing rally driver, Tailang (Deng Cha), who's magically transported back in time by crashing into a train in 2022, which sends him to 1998 and leads him to participate in a gang led by Zhengtai (Eddie Peng), his father. I'd say this is another example of Hong Kong filmmakers' current desire to be relevant while still providing silly fun. Little Ma (Mountains May Depart's Dong Zijan) as the foresighted computer nerd, and Lu Yi (race-car driver Zack Gao) as the lean and mean, thick-headed one make up the rest of "the Zhengtai gang." Tailang has hated his abusive and unsupportive father but now finds the younger version not so bad in many ways. He is most excited to meet his mother, who died shortly after his birth, and that's tricky because at first he doesn't know who she is.

Thanks to Tailang's joining up with his future father, he eventually gets to officiate at his parents' wedding, when he talks about how significant this is to him. "Why does he make everything about himself?" asks his future mother. "That's just who he is," says his future dad, who's become a best friend. Tailang's emotional speech is full of double meanings, but he doesn't expect to be able to change the course of future events. He entertains by singing nicely; Zhengtai amuses everyone as the happy groom by being completely out of tune. When one of the gang members dies through an act of aggression, he gets a farewell montage.

And so it goes. The adventures, and regular attempts at kidnapping by and of a rival gang, and schemes to guess the future which Tailang already knows (that cornering the market on beepers isn't a good idea; that video halls will be trumped by regular movie theaters, and so on), are all basically ways to celebrate the comradeship of an undemanding group of twenty-somethings with a sense of nostalgia. This really isn't as good as Hou Hsiau-hsien's Edward Young's memories of Taipei youth, of Linklater's, or Arnaud Desplechin's "Golden Days," but it will do for a mainstream young Chinese audience, and Eddie Peng (with his middle-parted Matt Dillon look) and Liying Zhao, with her provocative innocence, the future mother Tailang almost gets too close to, are irresistible and engaging. A final big fight with their superior gangster rivals is handled with a light touch. There are nice urban village-scapes making use, Maggie Lee tells us, of Changshou, a thousand-year-old city in the southeast province of Zhejiang with canals and arched bridges. Mandolin music make proceedings sound like a 1960's Italian comedy, but Lee things this flashback is millennials' "jaded amusement," but I'd say it's nostalgia for what they never had.

DuckweedChinese: 乘风破浪 (Cheng feng po lang, "Ride the Winds, Break the Waves"), 104 mins., released late Jan. 2017 in China; Feg. and Mar. in Australia, US, and Hong Kong. Reviewed as part of the July 2017 NYAFF, where it shows 15 July at 12:30 pm at Walter Reade Theater, in Lincoln Center.

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