Screening at the 34th New Directors/New Films Festival, New York City; Tues. March 29, 9 pm, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; Thu. March 31, 6 pm, Museum of Modern Art; Buy tickets here
Xu Daqin (Li Xuejian) is an unhappy 61-year-old pensioner who lives in a northern Chinese town. The only bright spots in his dreary days are provided by Uncle Yan, a humorous relative who keeps him amused with various exercises he has created. Xu Daqin's daughter wants to start a weight loss center. She turns to him for financial support but he refuses her. When she comes up with an investor, Xu Daqin writes a proposal for her. His plans to travel to Yunnan Province are upset when Uncle Yan meets a woman and quickly decides to marry her. Xu Daqin decides to travel alone despite his daughter's fear about his poor health and safety.
Writer and director Zhu Wen has created a leisurely drama that gently makes the point that those who live in regret all their lives have barely lived at all. We learn midway through this drama that Xu Daqin laments the choices he made to settle down with a woman who turned out to have a bad temper and a negative family. He wished he had never left Yunnan Province, and so his nostalgic journey there has great emotional significance to him. Talking one night to his chauffer, the old man admonishes him not to spend his whole life meeting the needs of others.
On a trip to Lugu Lake, a priest tells Xu Daqin about the matriarchal culture and gives him orders not to worry or work while he is in the region. In a dream, Xu Daqin has an encounter with a beautiful woman on a horse who listens sympathetically to his woes. Eventually, he ends up at a large hotel at a time of the year when it is nearly deserted. He gets into trouble by giving some money to a desperate woman who turns out to be a prostitute. Even though he is angered that no one believes his story about helping out a person in need, Xu Daqin seems to be enjoying his strange and wild experiences far from home. The feeling that life has passed him by and that he has missed so much begins to recede in his mind and he opens himself at last to the present moment.