Lan -- Film Review

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Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- "Lan," the debut by acclaimed Chinese actress Jiang Wenli ("Lost Indulgence," "And the Spring Comes"), is a recollection of growing up under her grandfather's fold during the Cultural Revolution. Unabashedly personal and dripping with nostalgia, "Lan's" direction is polished in an old-school way. Yet the film doesn't soar to a dramatic crest.

"Lan" feels like it belongs to the era of 5th or 6th generation directors, and would have caused more buzz then. It also spurs less favorable comparison with Jiang's husband, Gu Changwei, and his more profound and visually sublime "Peacock," which shares similar period setting.

Narrated in first person by protagonist Xiaolan, the first half describes her childhood in the '60s. Her parents were "sent down" to a collective in Xinjiang, so she is raised by granddad Tang (Zhu Xu). Jiang portrays her cocooned existence with warmth and whimsy -- shooting surroundings from the little girl's eye level, framing her under a table or inside a wardrobe and revealing her attachment to Tang ("I became grandfather's tail") in bittersweet episodes.

In the second half, Xiaolan reaches puberty. Her preoccupation turns to frustrated aspirations to become a national gymnast and moody longing for her exiled parents.

Although the script follows a clear linear direction, Jiang overstretches herself as she runs Xiaolan's inner life and personal growth as a parallel strand to the densely-detailed grandfather-daughter relationship. Nor can she strike a balance between fleshing out Tang's backstory as a train driver to make him a fully-fledged individual, and filtering a chunk of modern Chinese history through him as some archetypal everyman figure. Moreover, she stirs in a subplot of doomed love between her neighbor and her P.E. teacher (Liu Ye) that never quite takes off emotionally.

Cinematography and music are classically composed, and brim with romantic feminine sensibility. This works best in non-dialogue scenes that evoke the melancholy of rainy, mossy Southern Chinese climes, like a fantasy sequence when Xiaolan, standing atop a building, takes to the skies with an oil-paper umbrella and glides over the river and railway.

Zhu Xu's ("Shower") rock-solid performance provides an anchor for the scattered memories and lengthy time span. Yao Jun and Zhu Yinuo play the childhood and teenage Xialan respectively. They are both fresh and natural, and the personality transition between the two phases is seamless.

Pusan International Film Festival -- Asia New Currents
Cast: Zhu Xu, Yao Jun, Zhu Yinuo, Liu Ye
Director-screenwriter-producer: Jiang Wenli
Producer: Dong Ping
Director of photography: Lin Liangzhong
Production designer: Feng Ligang
Music: Dou Peng
Costume designer: .
Editors: Yang Yuhong, Liu Jiami.
Sales and production: Beijing Asia Union Culture and Media Investment Ltd.
No rating, 85 minutes