By Diana Cheng
AAP film review
CALGARY (May 24, 2017) — “The Song of Cotton” is a selection in the China Stars series at the 43rd Seattle International Film Festival.
“The Song of Cotton” is one of 12 feature films from students of the Beijing Film Academy that are being screened at SIFF. Director Zhu Yuancheng is a 2016 graduate from the Beijing Film Academy. “The Song of Cotton” is his graduating work.
From the beginning credits, we learn that the film is based on the short story “A Pension Plan” by Chinese American writer Ha Jin, a National Book Award and Pen/Faulkner Award winner. Zhu’s 90-minute film is not so much an adaptation but a borrowing of Ha’s story idea as he takes it out of the U.S. setting and change it to contemporary China. The film itself therefore is an interesting attempt at transplanting a story across borders.
Mianhua (Bingyan Yan) gets a job as a live-in care giver to an elderly man, Mr. Sheng (Deshun Wang), who used to be a boxer in his younger days but now suffers from dementia. Mianhua has to handle the delusional and stubborn old man and deal with his critical and demanding daughter Qin (Liya Ai) who hires her.
Despite being a first-time care giver, Mianhua (meaning Cotton) is pretty good at her tasks, and Mr. Sheng soon establishes an attachment to her. It could be due to the resemblance of her name with his deceased ex-wife’s, the love of his youth, Mr. Sheng grew to respond favorably to her care. What more, as the film progresses, Mianhua finds she has become the object of attraction for Mr. Sheng, as delusional memories take over reality.
To complicate matters, Mianhua is the mistress of a married man, and she just discovers that she is pregnant. Mianhua’s commitment to her job as a caregiver is now sustained by her desire to earn enough money to keep her baby, despite all odds and the pressures to abort from the baby’s father and her employer Qin.
As the screenwriter and director, Zhu has done an amiable job in his storytelling. What more, he has also effectively contrasted his characters as we see genuine concern and care between two people come not from Mr. Sheng and his own daughter or Mianhua and the father of the baby she is carrying, but from the inexperienced caregiver and her dementia patient.
Zhu’s study of human relationship is admirable. The film also gains from an experienced cast, its natural cinematography and original music. As a graduating film student, Zhu’s directorial work is promising. Overall a fine production.
“The Song of Cotton” will be screened at the 43rd SIFF on June 7 and 9. Info and tickets here.