Sunday, 9 September 2007

Seventeen Years (1999)

Chinese title: Going Home for New Year.

Seventeen Years (1999)No, this isn't a banned film. This is a few non-banned film that won a number of international film awards.

It couldn't have been a banned film because the director needed the filming of an actual live prison, which requires the authority's approval. Naturally, you get a very close eyes on this project from the authority with such a politically sensitive subject. And the very human face that this movie puts on the Chinese prison system would make the film regulatory body to vote this film with both feet. Not only this isn't a banned film, the government would be more than happy to fund the project if he asked them for it.

Unlike Zhang Yuan's previous films, which rubbed the Chinese authority the wrong way. With his film, the director had emerged from underground to the mainstream. This movie is aimed (or at least) is screened in the Chinese domestic market.

I know a film that's being put on a ban list makes it sexier. But let's not judge a film only by its ban status (and the Chinese film regulatory body should be renamed to Department for the Promotion of Banned Films).

The title Seventeen Years has the same meaning as the movie Seventeen-Years-Old's Bicycle, better known as Beijing Bicycle. The age sits at the cusp of transition from childhood to adulthood in Chinese (and most other) cultures/societies. In this film, the number also refers to the length of prison sentence of 1 of our main character receives. So she spends an equal amount of her life in and out of prison.

The opening scene shows a middle-aged couple on a bicycle with husband paddling and the wife sitting behind at right angle. What a romantic scene, some audience might imagine. But the wife's facial expression paints a different picture.

And then the couple sit down and have dinner with their 2 daughters. This suggests this it isn't a normal family. I suspected a 2 kids family in Tianjin to be unusual in the 1990s because of the One-Child policy. As it turns out, the 2 daughters come from 2 separate previous marriages.

This marital arrangement sets up conflicts for this family drama, which is unfortunately both timeless and universal.

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