Einstein and Einstein: Busan Review

Einstein and Einstein H
It’s not easy growing up female in contemporary China in Cao Baoping’s bittersweet family drama.

Cao Baoping's drama revolves around a middle school girl who struggles with exclusion and lowered expectations.

A 13-year-old middle school girl struggles with exclusion and lowered expectations in Einstein and Einstein, a critical but bloated look at coming of age female in modern China. Cao Baoping’s empathetic film is a modest one that takes its sweet time getting to where it’s going, but it’s filled with small moments that add up to a moderately insightful condemnation of hundreds of years of child rearing, even if it’s a familiar argument.

Anchored by a strong performance from it’s young star Sophie, Einstein and Einstein is the kind of contemporary drama that connects because of its relevance and resonance, as well as working as a peek inside modern urban China.

Li Wan (Sophie) is an only daughter until middle school when her father’s second wife gives birth to a son. Long before shuffled off to live with her grandparents, Li Wan is kept in the dark about the boy’s existence altogether and suspects nothing when her distant father starts showering her with gifts, one of which is a puppy that Li Wan initially rejects (and treats horribly). Of course, the dog wins her over and a tight bond forms, and of course, the dog is ripped from her life. To describe Li Wan’s ordeal with the dog as symbolic of larger family issues is an understatement. The dog, Einstein, also serves as the final, gruesome symbol of just how desperate Li Wan is for her dad’s approval and affection.

One of the most telling segments revolves around a business banquet Li Wan is forced to attend with her father. When the boss asks her what she likes to read he pooh-poohs her choice of Stephen Hawking and turns his attention to Zhao Zhao reciting classic Chinese poetry. Li Wan’s frustration is palpable. It’s miserable stuff, but Cao leaves room for a happy ending that suggests the modernization of China is an iterative process that will trickle down to the Li Wans of the world — eventually.

A Window on Asian Cinema
Cast: Sophie, Zhang Xueying, Guo Jinglin
Director: Cao Baoping
No rating, 119 minutes