Back to the Wharf
Film: Back to the Wharf (Feng ping lang jing)
Director: Xiaofeng Li
Writer: Xin Yu
Starring: Yu Zhang, Jia Song and Yanhui Wang
This is a movie that I heard about thanks to Justin Cook when he sent over the screener. I investigated this a bit, found out it wasn’t horror, but it still sounded interesting. I figured I’d still give it a review to support independent/foreign cinema
Synopsis: an escaped convict for negligent homicide returns to his hometown after 15 years, only to be haunted by his past and gets mixed up in a scheme involving the daughter of his victim.
Now for this movie, we start with a kid getting bullied at an arcade. His name is Song Hao. He is protected by another teen by the name of Li Tang. Hao heads home, but before he does, he visits a teacher or an administrator from his school. He informs Hao that despite being one of the smartest in his class, he is going to lose his preference scholarship for another student. The reason is that the administrator thinks that he will still get in, he just must pass the essay. The other student doesn’t have the same chance so they’re trying to get more into this prestigious school.
Hao is depressed and goes home where his father is hard on him. The father is Song Jianhui (Yanhui Wang). Jianhui is upset that his son doesn’t tell him where he’s been. He’s also upset when he learns about his son losing his scholarship. He makes a call to the administrator to learn that the place was given to Hao’s friend of Tang. Hao heads out into the monsoon as does his father.
This changes everything. Hao goes to the wrong house and upsets the man who lives there. He is drunk and attacks Hao, thinking he is a burglar. Hao accidentally stabs him. Jianhui arrives and after his son has fled. He knows that his son did it from what he’s told by the man. To protect Hao, Jianhui finishes the job. The problem is that Tang saw both leaving the house.
The movie then shifts into the future. With what happened, Hao gave up his dream and left. Hao is now played by Zhang Yu. He comes home and we see that the relationship is strained with his father. They get along well enough though. A classmate of his, Pan Xiaoshuang (Jia Song), has a crush on him. She wants him to ask her out. Hao also runs into his old friend, Tang who is now played by Hong-Chi Lee. Song seeks out the daughter of the man he killed who is now living in foster care. Truths are revealed and decisions must be made, all stemming from that fateful day.
That is where I’ll leave my recap and introduction to the characters. Where I want to start is that this feels like a different take on a Neo-Noir. I’m sure this feeling comes from the fact that this is has a mystery of sorts. It goes beyond that though with how this one decision and event has shaped the lives of so many people. I should say that is more of a drama.
I would also say this is more of a character study of our lead. Hao was on track to go to a good college. Jianhui was making an honest living. Tang might not be in the position that he is now. That day changed the course of their lives. Then there is also the teenage girl that Hao feels responsible for. Seeing how everyone interacts was interesting. It feels a lot like the butterfly effect without time travel. We see what happens and the outcomes on everyone.
Now I don’t know if this would work though without good acting. I love how indifferent to everything Zhang is. It feels like he is punishing himself and can’t be happy because of it. Wang shows that despite how hard on his son he is, he does love him. He’s made sacrifices as well. Lee is interesting. When he was a teen, there was a bully that feared him. As an adult, Tang is a gangster of sorts. He also has leverage over Jianhui. He is more of a minor role, but also the villain. I’d even say that the regret of what Hao did and his father covering it up is more of the main villain. One’s own guilt. To finish out what I was going over, Song and the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
All that is left to go into would be with the filmmaking. I think this is shot well. They do a great job with the heavy rains to make it feel dreary. I wouldn’t go as far to say that the aesthetic is drab throughout, but it also isn’t bright and colorful. That helps to show the depression to me for Hao. I’d also say that the soundtrack was fine and fit for what was needed without necessarily standing out.
In conclusion, I enjoyed my time with this movie. We get a different type of drama here that has elements of a Neo-Noir. We see how one event can change the lives of so many. The performances help to drive that home. I think this is a well-made movie, giving special credit to the cinematography for sure. This was something I probably would have never seen if the screener hadn’t been sent over and I enjoyed my time with it. If I have a gripe, it does run a bit long. With a bit of trimming, it would run tighter.
My Rating: 7 out of 10