Saturday, December 13, 2008

[China Film Festival] Love, Come Back (爱在他乡)

Love, Come Back consists of two story arcs in what would be a modern day Chinese tale of the Prince and the Pauper. Initially one might have thought that it was a documentary given the way it was presented with street interviews asking pedestrians what their take is on the current state of education and the system of learning in China, and while it was one of the themes it was examining, it soon paved way for the narrative elements to take over.

The story centers on two individuals, one a bored and bumming rich city kid who doesn't care, and spends his days in front of the television playing console games. Mao Mao lives the life of affluence and negatively carefree. On the other hand, Butre is your village kid in Inner Mongolia who has topped his district's exams, and as a reward (and of course a scheme), Mao Mao's father decides to swap their kids around, given his contacts with Butre's folks, and soon, Mao Mao gets sent packing to live in the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, and Butre comes over to Beijing.

It then becomes a classic case of culture shock for both parties, and I thought Mao Mao received the shorter end of the stick, which was the intention for him to learn personal responsibility, and some proper life skills rather than to sit in front of the television all day. And here's a character who is instantly unlikeable, given the airs he puts on as an ungracious guest and for the most parts behaves like an arrogant city dweller who sniffs his nose at everything, especially the cuisine. His hosts soon get exasperated at his constant spurning of their hospitality, and to think that his ignorance also led to a preventable accident which naturally served as a turning point in his attitude.

Butre however got to enjoy the sights and sounds of the big city, and lapped it all up like a kid in a candy store. I wonder really whether the village kid in the city would be overwhelmed by all the technological sights and sounds, but as the story seemed to suggest, the cramped living style as opposed to the freedom one has when out in the open, does take as much to get used to. While Butre finds it easier to adapt because of his innate sunny disposition, he does seem unhappy from time to time given his constant "lockup" at the home of his hosts.

Which this movie by Chen Jun suggests, that sometimes it's never just the kids' fault, because their getting into trouble would serve as a sign that they're seeking attention that the parents don't devote, and that parental upbringing is just as important as the quality of that upbringing. It's not sufficient just to throw money at the kid, and while one's career is important, spending quality time with the children should take precedence as well. For Mao Mao's parents, they learn this lesson slowly through their interaction with Butre. Well, in fact all characters in the movie took away some important lessons.

Love, Come Back contains some amazing scenery of the vast grasslands which was courtesy of having half of it set in Inner Mongolia. And while it has some important messages contained within, it doesn't force its way through and have the narrative adopt a preachy tone. It ends when it's supposed to without resorting to saccharine sweet techniques, and kept things enjoyably succinct. Definitely recommended.

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