Before We Vanish by Sam C. Mac Film

Duckweed | Han Han

February 10, 2017

Duckweed is a Chinese Back to the Future with quite a bit of Capra in it. Celebrated novelist (and rally car driver) Han Han rebounds from 2014 road movie The Continent, his disappointing first foray into filmmaking, with an altogether lighter, more unabashedly sentimental comedy, one in which the writer’s sociocultural concerns are rooted in an anachronistic, 1998 setting that gives the film a fish-out-of-water earnestness. The opening even serves as a self-aware acknowledgment of Han Han’s tendency for narcissism: Tailang (Deng Chao), a world champion rally car driver, suffers a life-threatening humiliation and is sent back to reevaluate his life, as well as the lives of the parents that he’s never understood. The bulk of Duckweed unfolds as an evocation of male camaraderie and close-knit community, with an emphasis on the interplay of relationships across generations of fathers and sons. The humor here may be too culturally specific for some (one funny, and in its own way quite moving, passage involves the founder of QQ, which will go right over the heads of most non-Chinese viewers), but this is a crucial transition film for one of China’s most discussed contemporary writers, finally translating his appeal to the film medium.

Published as part of New York Asian Film Festival | Dispatch 2.