Reviewed by: dandan
Summary: i don't want to live the same life i've been living, singing the same songs every day...
a group of friends in a small town are rocked by the news that monkey and jan, two of their close friends, have died as stowaways on a boat. this brings a lot of attention on younger brother (long duan), who left china for america as a stowaway himself, but was deported after a couple of years, leaving a son behind. as the group comes to terms with the loss of a friend, younger brother's sense of displacement comes to a head when he hears that his son is back in china for his fifth birthday.
as he struggles to re-adapt tho life back in china, younger brother, develops a relationship with little girl (yan shu), a performer in a travelling shanghai opera troupe, and, despite the disapproval of the mother's family, attempts to reconnect with his son.
wang xiaoshuai is one of china's best known directors, from the so-called 'Urban generation', having received a string of awards for films such as 'shanghai dreams', 'beijing bicycle' and 'frozen'. he was also blacklisted by the chinese government, who objected to his debut feature 'the days', resulting in him submitting some future works under a pseudonym. like his previous films, and those of other 'Urban generation' directors, 'drifters' is a film, produced on a very modest budget, which tells a story of contemporary life in china that is focused on the realities of the here and now.
in interviews, wang has told how the the film was inspired by stories of a friend who had undertaken the same journey as the film's main protagonist and found himself back in china, separated from his wife and child. affected by the tragedy of this and similar stories about stowaways, he was inspired to explore the environment and emotions of people who take huge risks in their attempt to run away; how this takes its toll on them and those around them.
long duan, making his feature debut after numerous television roles, does a very good job of bringing depth to the seemingly aimless younger brother. wang and long combine to create a character who has been cut off from the life he was trying to carve out for himself and the family he was building this with; who is now uncomfortable and uninspired, having been forcefully returned to the life he had run away from. the difficulties that younger brother faces are clear, yet their subtlety of their exposition and the strong characterisation provide the film with a real strength, allowing you to empathise with a character who may not appear immediately sympathetic.
yan shu's 'little girl', yiwei zhao's 'bigger brother' and yang tang's 'sister-in-law' are also worthy of praise. little girl's attraction to younger brother, despite his distant nature, reflects her own desire to run away from the mundane nature of her own life. still, there is a dichotomy; whilst younger brother and little girl look for the greener grass, the older generation, represented by big brother and sister-in-law, choose to struggle against their problems, looking only to put their own house in order. for those who choose to stay where they are, family and friends are the path to happiness, even if it is not an easy journey.
it is by establishing these concerns that wang creates an ambiguity and, ultimately, asks of his audience; why, despite the risks and resulting displacement, do so many people try and run away? it is a question that has no easy answer and one that the film doesn't attempt to provide.
wang's direction, his construction of a narrative that slowly unfolds to deliver depth and development throughout, and a cast who provide solid performances, result in an accomplished piece of modern chinese cinema. credit should also be given to di wu's cinematography and feng wang's score; both compliment the understated style of the production. 'drifters' is a fine film that not only shows its audience a picture of modern china, but asks it to consider more universal questions about people and their motivation.