The Movie Waffler New Release Review (DVD) - CIAO CIAO | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review (DVD) - CIAO CIAO

ciao ciao movie review
A big city girl returns to the boredom of her childhood village.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Song Chuan

Starring: Xueqin Liang, Yu Zhang

ciao ciao dvd

"You can’t go home again," wrote Thomas Wolfe, referring to the inexorable passage of time that occurs between absconding a familiar set of circumstances for someplace new, and the subsequent accrual of experience gained during the absence (experience often inaugurated by the simple act of flight from one set of affairs to another), outlining a transition which entails that previous conditions (innocence, the limited understandings engendered by the insular circumstances of the prior ‘home life’) are swamped by the sands of time, hence the inability to return to such an altered landscape. But Wolfe was on about America with its specifically pioneer spirit, and Song Chaun’s Ciao Ciao is a Chinese production which concerns the homecoming of its titular character (played by Xueqin Liang) from the heady cosmopolita of Canton to the comatose pastorals of the mountain village where she grew up. Is it the same old story, across the continents? Can the increasingly womanish Ciao Ciao re-adapt to her previous girly life as a daughter and farmer, or have the Cantonian bright lights forever turned her head?

ciao ciao movie review

By using a typical rural/urban dichotomy, Chaun asks us not only to consider the universal transactions of family versus destiny - our duty to the shared past and the obligation toward a personal fate - but also puts the changing fortunes of China into perspective. The opening scenes of Ciao Ciao are perhaps the most beautiful use of landscapes in a film all year, with the imperial mountain range of southern China bisected in wide angles by a hastening train, where, within the carriages, Ciao Ciao is returning to this sleepy town. Chaun imbues the scenery with nostalgic longing, a sleight of hand that becomes apparent when we realise just how dull the quality of life is in this small town. Ciao Ciao’s parents squabble: her dad is a drunk, and her industrious mother is having it off with a local businessman. You can’t blame her the indiscretion as there is literally nothing else to do here apart from get nasty. And as if to underline this salacious point, amid the hypnotic transitions of verdant landscapes and gentle agriculture, Chaun hard cuts to a confrontational tableau of hard shagging, with Li Wei (Yu Zhang) taking a prostitute in a manner that can only be described as rough.

ciao ciao movie review

Inevitably, due to his bad boy leanings and limited ambitions to leave the village, Li Wei piques Ciao Ciao’s interest. However, Chaun suggests that the attraction is inevitable not due to romantic equation of two good looking, bored young people finding each other for romance and excitement, but that, simply, Ciao Ciao and Li Wei are just there: when the apparent alternative for Ciao Ciao, as outlined by her compromised mum, is to "find a rich man and get married," they are literally, regrettably, the only option for each other. The mountains, glowing emerald in the opening sequences, seem harder and higher as the film continues, insurmountable. And so, it seems as if it is with reluctance that Ciao Ciao embarks upon her relationship with Li Wei, a consolation for the endless, boring beauty of her surroundings.

The use of sex within Ciao Ciao is consequently rather striking: the desperate shagging of earlier pales into conciliatory transactions between love’s forced dream. That sort of sex which is not rape, but isn’t enjoyable either, sex where you might as well get it over with, like taking the bins out or having to laugh at your partner’s unfunny joke. Correlatively, as Ciao Ciao constantly plays with her phone, her westernised dress contrasting the utilitarian garb of the other villagers, Chaun subjects us to longueur after longueur of non-causal sequences depicting village life, the sky, the mountains to express the stifling stillness of the surroundings.

ciao ciao movie review

This is a technique which, if you ask me, is slightly overused - we sort of get how dull it is there, no need to bore us too. Ciao Ciao makes several interesting points about the stagnancy of certain lifestyles, and the compromises we make to adjust to our circumstances, but there is a sense of repetition within the film, which, even if it is a deliberate narrative decision, is tiring. And, as the film ends, we too are like Ciao Ciao’s very own motorcycle boy Li Wei, endlessly traversing the mountain landscape, hopelessly looking for meaning.

Ciao Ciao is on DVD November 12th from Matchbox Films.


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