BY Jojo Eijansantos
Before I started watching the annual Spring Film Festival, I always thought that any movie that came out of mainland China would be sensitized beyond my own libertarian sensibilities to appreciate, let alone like. But the beauty of film is that it arouses a curiosity that expands a mind beyond its original dimensions, and it shares universal truths, beyond the cultural fineries that enliven these truths and the language in which they are spoken. Here are my top 4 picks for the 2014 Spring Film Festival—ongoing FOR FREE at the Shangri-La Plaza until Feb. 2–and how they made me expand my universe just a little more over the weekend.
My #4 pick: Where Is My Home? (95 mins)
Even retired people need work targets. Granny Geng gives a lesson or two about the cardio benefits of searching constantly for a wanderlust mother in a giant city, and why apparent senility can in fact be a symptom of how unavoidable and heavy a price it is for a parent to raise a family. You’ll never have the heart to send Mom or Dad to a home after finding out why Geng just loves going jailbreak.
What it will make you want to do after watching: Take your parents and grandparents for a nice Sunday walk… and wonder what the heck Guabao pork tastes like.
#3 pick: Thei-Go King and His Son (95 mins)
And you thought board games were for sissies. Xiaochuan, played by Sun Song, a clever, pug-nosed and big-hearted little boy maneuvers masterfully through Weiqi’s gold angles, silver lines, and hypocritical dualisms from years of listening to his father giving lectures on the game, and with even greater wisdom plays a gambit for the king and queen of his life.
The little budding master’s hilarious blind match scene against his father Liu Yishou and seeing how little Chuan, er, bravely stands up for his father’s honor against a professional 8th duan level master are collectively a year’s worth of advanced Weiqi class fees.
What it will make you want to do after watching: Learn to play Weiqi.
#2 pick: 1911 Revolution (125 mins)
When you see Jackie Chan standing with gravity at the stern of a battleship, you just know he’s not going to horse around a sauna parlor with Chris Rock in this movie. If the Qing Dynasty could go back in time to head off the 1911 Revolution, it couldn’t have done better by doing in two men: Huang Xing, played by Chan, the leader of the armed offensive in the homeland who, despite the loss of two digits including a middle finger, nonetheless finds numerous ways to effin’ irk the monarchy, and Dr.Sun Yat-Sen, played by Winston Chao who, in true Ilustrado fashion, uses a lamb roast to great effect in showing a multilateral’s officials the atrocity of bankrolling a despotic regime.
The historical importance of the film’s subject and the sweepingly grand sets of an 18th century war-torn China make the film a compelling watch, along with some stellar performances from the cast: Chun Sun, playing the outrageous and hubristic Prime Minister Yuan Shikai; Wu Jiang as Li Yuanhong, the reluctant defector-general who masterfully turns back an enemy gunboat; and Ge Hu in the role of the fatalistic rich-boy-cum-freedom-fighter Lin Juemin. Best appreciated with a brief history lesson prior.
What it will make you want to do after watching: Learn about Chinese history.
#1 pick: Aftershock (135 mins)
Films like these need to have Kleenex warnings. I spent countless times nonchalantly rubbing my nose while surreptitiously wiping away my tears watching my top pick for the 2014 Spring Film Festival. Like with any life struck by a massive disaster, Aftershock briefly depicts the earthquake but shows the longer process of rising from it, or attempting to at least, by a family torn in half. And if you’ve ever felt mad at your mother for giving the last piece of cake to your brother, just imagine how twin sister Fang Deng felt when, trapped in the aftermath of the Great Tanshan Earthquake and feebly tapping with a pebble that she was still alive, heard her own mother scream “Save my son!” to the neighbors. To see Fang Deng’s tear trickle down from her right eye to her left just before the building collapsed around her is to lock away your own sibling rivalries in a box, to be buried in the middle of the sea and weighed down by the rubble of a thousand cities.
Outstanding performances are given by Chen Li as the amputee momma’s boy who eventually manages to make a name for himself; Jingchu Zhang as Fang Deng, who comes full circle as she finally understands the depth of her mother’s love under the same circumstances as when she learned to doubt it; and Fan Xu, who plays with great exception the quiet, grief-stricken mother Li Yuanni that saw her garnering several international film awards. This movie has a striking significance for Filipinos, who can see glimpses of our own attempts at rising up after a natural calamity and our unshakable love for family during these trying times.
What it will make you want to do after watching: Give a generous donation to Yolanda recovery operations.
The 8th Spring Film Festival, which screens Chinese films for free, is ongoing until Feb. 2.
For the screening schedule for the remaining dates, click here.