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Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Movie Review: Shan He Gu Ren (Mountains May Depart)

Director Jia Zhangke with his 'Mountains May Depart' (2015) gave us one of the few emotionally well-concocted films of today. Set amidst the advent of capitalist culture in China, Shan He Gu Ren lets us visit 3 time periods and the changes that came along with each of them.

The story revolves around 3 friends born and brought up in the 90s – Tao, Liangzi and Jinsheng. Each of them belonging from a different economic background, that being doting and hardworking Tao, coal miner Liangzi and rich and ruthless Jinsheng. The film opens with a shot of Tao dancing to a Pet Shop Boys track establishing that Tao is a popular culture & people loving individual. Director Zhangke makes use of 3 different aspect ratios for three different time periods:

  1. 4:3 Academy ratio for the portion depicting young Tao, Liangzhi and Jinsheng in 1999.
  2. 16:9 for the second portion depicting 2014 ( modern tv)
  3. And finally, the third portion stepping into the future, i.e. 2025 depicted in 2:35:1.

Aesthetically, Mountains May Depart is almost reaching perfection yet lacks somewhere in pushing the 3rd portion of its plot to its best. Zhangke, however, addresses deeper social and political issues and questions gender roles under the massive umbrella of emotions and social relations.

The first and the second portions are impeccably made with regard to the plot, theme and most importantly the characters. Tao- played by actress Zhao Tao is the performance to look out for throughout the film. She carries the film on her shoulders despite her massive absence from the concluding third of the film. On the cusp of capitalism, when China was just stepping into a new found global culture, director Zhangke forced a form of western modernity on the final portion of the film. Starting from naming Tao and Jinsheng’s son ‘Dollar’ to the portrayal of a love affair between Dollar and his teacher Mia, were all forms of forced impressions of the Western world on the Eastern audiences.

One must also recall the film in the days to come because of stellar performances by Jingdong who played Liangzhi. However, Zijian Dong who was Dollar, let out an amateurish effort to play the character of a boy who led a shattered family life throughout. For one to bear what Dollar did, the character portrayal needed a little more dedication, considering his character’s portion of the story brought an end to the film. Pick any aspect of his character and you’ll see that it leaves a hole – may it be his affection for his mother or hatred for his dad or even love for his teacher.

Moreover, Mountains May Depart is a cinematic project of threes, if you observe closely, three characters, three time periods, three narrative sections and use of three aspect ratios.

Overlooking the faltering third portion of the film and the need for an able scriptwriter for Jia Zhangke, his Mountains May Depart is a must watch for all cine-buffs.

Tao’s dance to Pet Shop Boys in the snow towards the end might even leave you teary eyed if you let it.



Written by Smita Ganguli
Aspiring cyber journalist but too damn opinionated.


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