The Movie Waffler New Release Review - SO LONG, MY SON | The Movie Waffler

Sponsor

New Release Review - SO LONG, MY SON

so long my son review
The lives of two Chinese families connected by a tragedy.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Xiaoshuai Wang

Starring: Liya Ai, Jiang Du, Zhao-Yan Guo-Zhang, Jingjing Li, Xi Qi, Jingchun Wang

so long my son poster



Like everyone else this weekend, I’m pondering where I can fit The Irishman in on Netflix (my heady social life and work demands preclude a weekday viewing), and so I’ve cleared the afternoon for a full interrupted three and a half hours of labour union shenanigans and masculine whimsy (I’ve even bought myself a very nice bottle of red for the occasion - swivel on that, abstemious theatrical experience!). Funny thing though, if I was binging a crime drama for four or five hours on the bounce, or something like American Horror Story (I like it - fight me!), then I wouldn’t make such a fuss and for whatever reason (Cahiers induced snobbery?) I probably wouldn’t have the same respect for the process. Recently I’ve been thinking about how the passing of time is used, created and manufactured in cinema, assessing the glibly episodic nature of television programming against the comprehensive involvement of something like Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (remembering Mark Kermode’s disparaging comments concerning the non-causality of Brad fixing a television aerial with his shirt off: Big Hands just doesn’t get it sometimes).

so long my son review

Xiaoshuai Wang’s (helped out with the screenplay by Mei Ah) majestic So Long, My Son is an apposite sample for this sort of pretentious navel gazing. At an imperial 185 minutes, So Long, My Son takes in three decades of familial life in industrialised China, juxtaposing the variated fortunes of two couples in the wake of a personal tragedy against the backdrop of the developing People’s Republic of China.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - Motherless Brooklyn ]

Within the context of this epic length, Wang further manipulates our temporal perception with his patchwork, non-linear approach, with flashbacks and the present shuffled into a narrative which highlights specific moments in each couple’s history in order to directly suggest the proceeding outcomes of various twists of fate and governmental ordinance (there was an amazing review of Karen Gillan’s The Party’s Just Beginning recently which talks about similar narrative time travel - ahem!). That the couples are of similar age and demeanour reinforces the impression that fate is indiscriminate and that the draconian policies of the communist regime, the one child policy and the shift to a market economy, were cruelly divisive.

so long my son review

The plot is predicated upon the drowning of one son, Xingxing -child of Yaoyun (Wang Jingchun) mother Liyun (Yong Mei) - who was playing at the reservoir with Haohao, who is the son of Haiyan (Ai Liya) and Yingming (Xu Cheng). This incident proves pivotal and splits the previously harmonious family units apart and along very different paths of fate.

[ READ MORE: New Release Review - The Nightingale ]

The immersion of So Long, My Son is total. Wang’s cinema is full Eastern, with tempos based upon ambiance rather than the causal nexus of our films. The slow movement through these lives, steered by abstract notions of guilt, sorrow and fractured hope, is enabled through the extraordinary indexical detail of So Long, My Son’s loci. Particularly impressive is the aging (de-aging? I confess ignorance) of the actors, and, in fact, China itself. The distinctive sensation is that time is indeed passing before our eyes and slowly but surely wearing the very existence of these people down to the bare bones. There is a moment centred on a family disco which in its cosy authenticity feels like an actual home video (but prettier), and another quietly sad scene involving the bereaved couple years later having a picnic at the grave of their son which I actually had to leave the room for as it was so convincing. It felt like spying. It was ruinous.

so long my son review

In three hours So Long, My Son gives us various lifetimes and a verisimilitudinous portrayal of China which is fully mesmeric and deeply trenchant. Imdb informs me that Wang’s film is the first instalment of a ‘Homeland’ trilogy which will "span China over the past 50 years." Here’s to the next six deliciously devastating hours.

So Long, My Son is in UK/ROI cinemas December 6th.




2019 movie reviews



discussion by