Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jul 14, 2019 6:47 am 
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Coming of age dangerously, between Hong Kong and China

Cath Clark of the The Guardian oddly sees this as an "elegantly elliptical arthouse movie" with "echoes of Sophia Coppola" that captures "the impulsiveness and impatience of teenagers." There is elegance in the bright color and intense, cool action, but this is "arthouse" only in the sense of avoiding conventional selling points like sex and violence. Bai Xue, in this distinctive, relentless, sometimes beautiful debut, seems almost too eager to show her no-nonsense, non-stop focus on action and process. This isn't about "teenagers" so much as a girl ambitious beyond her years and driven deep into risk-taking by the freedom of her situation. She is half Hong Kong, half-Mainland, one parent from each place.. As is typical in such cases, called danfei according the Clarance Tsui in his Hollywood Reporter review, Peipei (Huang Yao) lives (or sleeps) - a typical arrangement, Tsui says, in Mainland China, crossing over from Shenzhen to Hong Kong for school every day.

The girlish school uniform she wears every day provides perfect cover for what develops: Peipei becomes a mule, smuggling new iPhones to the Mainland. Her ostensible aim is to make money for a Christmas trip that Peipei and Jo (Carmen Song), her "poor little rich girl" best school gf, want to take to Japan. There, they excitedly imagine themselves on holiday sipping sake in saunas looking out at a snowy mountain. It's a fantasy. The reality is that the danger, the recognition of her special knack (her schoolgirl invisibility), and the excess of money earned, provide frantic compensation for the emptiness of her emotional life. Her mother (Ni Hongjie) drinks and plays mahjong all day. Her father works at night in a warehouse. Neither provides that warmth and support a child needs.

It is hard to know who's more driven, the young protagonist or the first-time c0-writer-director Bai Xue, who seems equally bent on impressing with her no-nonsense coolness and relentless focus on insider worlds. This film would have been a bit better leavened by the occasional pause for breath - that is, beyond the few pointed freeze-frames used here to underline that Peipei has crossed another line into the danger zone. But both actress and filmmaker impress with their complete assurance.

Alan Hunter (Screen Daily) describes Mrs Hua (Carmen Soup), the smuggling boss whom young Peipei, just turned sixteen, goes to work for, as "a 21st century Fagin with her own gang of thieving boys." An amusing idea, but Mrs Hua' is more like a treacherous, potentially dangerous den mother, supervising loosely a program of dangerous fun - perhaps an exploitation of that "impulsiveness and impatience of teenagers" Cath Clark spoke of, in which Peipei as her new pet. The more pivotal, subtly accumulating, attachment is the restrained but intense one between Peipei and her more experienced fellow smuggler Hao (Sunny Sun), whose ambitions extend beyond soldiering for Mrs Hua. Hao was Peipei's gf's bf, so when she takes a jaunt up the mountain with him that has a romantic, fun edge, there's going to be blowback.

And since this is a movie that's Peipei's non-stop action and very insistently does not pause for breath, the most memorable scene is the one, in a small room all lit in red, when Hao secretly prepares Peipei for a bigger, more dangerous crossing in a scene that's very intimate, the more so for not being (overtly) sexual or romantic.

It is this teasing closeness, one realizes, the epitomizes The Crossing as a whole. It's perpetually too intimate, perpetually crossing over some kind of line whose seriousness this ambitious, wayward schoolgirl is too inexperienced to sense and be frightened by. As is often the case, Huang Yao is by a fair margin older than her character, but she rarely gives that away. She is very good. So is Sunny Sun as Hao, close but always a big heartbeat away. Props to the filmmaker and dp Piao Songri for shooting constantly in the tumultuous, crowded settings so essential to this story: Mrs Hua's boisterous young crew of boys (well differentiated), the noisy classrooms, and the crowds on trains and at the border; and to the deft editing of Matthieu Laclau (a Jia Zhang-ke regular) that maintains the seamless rhythm and flow.

The Crossing 过春天 (Guo Chun Tian), 99 mins., debuted at Toronto Sept. 2018, also showing at Pinyao, Berlin, Dublin and Osaka. Screened for this review as part of the NYAFF.
Friday Jul 12, 6:00pm (Beatrice Theatre, SVA Theatre)


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