Full Circle (Fei Yue Lao Ren Yuan): Film Review

Full Circle - H 2013
Seattle International Film Festival
Pandering Chinese dramedy can't compete with similarly themed recent Western films.

A group of senior citizens break out of the old-folks home to perform on TV in this feel-good dramedy.

SEATTLE — A feel-good geriatric dramedy that behaves as if having a formula eliminates the need to develop characters and give them motivations, Zhang Yang's Full Circle cheers on residents of a Chinese nursing home who enter a televised talent contest. Friendly but unsubstantial, the import has little to offer Western viewers whose senior-friendly options have recently included such high-wattage titles as the Terence Stamp/Vanessa Redgrave vehicle Unfinished Song, a SIFF entry that The Weinstein Co. will bring to screens later this month.

Xu Huanshan plays Ge, who is forced from home when his wife dies and must squeeze into a nursing home with old friend Zhou (Wu Tianming). There, his pal has already pitched residents on an idea that seemingly came from nowhere: They will create a costumed pantomime routine and make a cross-country trek to perform on the local equivalent of America's Got Talent. Zhou has his reasons, revealed midway through the film, but the quick enthusiasm of his volunteers is unmotivated, throwing the film into full gear after only a few seconds of scene-setting.

After subjecting Ge to a couple of indignities designed to quickly make him reliant on his new neighbors, the film focuses on the construction of a routine that is baffling to Western eyes. A young Chief Nurse (Yan Bingyan), who in reality would surely embrace any project that got her patients excited in such a low-impact way, becomes a naysayer, canceling their plans for fear that something will happen; the dancers' adult children unanimously refuse to consent, prompting residents who are clearly capable of making rational decisions to complain about being denied autonomy.

So they sneak out, buying a rusty bus for a wholly predictable road trip where decades-old familial grudges will be healed and (spoiler alert) someone will die -- but not, of course, before the gang gets a moment in the sun to prove that old folks are people, too.

Tech values are fine, and the cast (most in their seventies or older) is a good deal better than the material they've been given by their director, whose films include 1999's Shower.

Production Companies: China Film Co., Desen International Media Co.
Cast: Xu Huanshan, Wu Tianming, Li Bin, Yan Bingyan, Niu Ben, Han Tongsheng
Director: Zhang Yang
Screenwriters: Huo Xin, Zhang Chong
Producers: Ann An, Li Li, Zhang Quiang
Director of photography: Yang Tao
Production designer: An Bin
Music: San Bao
Editor: Yang Hongyu
No rating, 104 minutes