by Matt McCracken Film

The Taste of Rice Flower | Peng Fei Song

April 25, 2019

Set on the Sino-Burmese border, Peng Fei Song’s second feature, The Taste of Rice Flower, tells the story of Ye Nan (Ying Ze), a young mother who has been living and working in Shanghai to keep her family financially supported. When Ye Nan returns to her village, she encounters barely suppressed prejudice from neighbors who view her move to the city as a kind of cultural betrayal, and resent her for it (e.g. going so far as to call for the return of her soul) — even though they understand the economics that dictate the situation. More important to Ye Nan than any of this is the need to reduce the emotional gulf that now exists between she and her daughter, Nan Hang (Ye Bule), a strained filial dynamic that’s central to this film’s plot. To examine all of this, Peng employs a docu-fiction approach, much in the vain of the early works of Jia Zhangke; one can easily sense a real community here, one whose real problems are explored under the auspice of a heightened drama (even though the real experiences of those suffering from conditions of economic disparity are often much more traumatizing than that depicted here).

The Taste of Rice Flower also manages to achieve an interesting metatextual presentation of community issues: the characters desire east China’s tourists to come and see the local beauty, spread word, and bring further business, and these are, in effect, also results of this film’s existence. This may go some way toward explaining why the cinematography in The Taste of Rice Flower looks a bit garish, with lighting that resembles nothing so much as a commercial. This isn’t even necessarily a knock against the film; these decisions explicate the double-bind of poverty in this cultural configuration, seeing both deprivation and its healing (i.e. both foreign tourism and taking up a diasporic condition) as attacking the very existence of a culture, its heritage, and the people that occupy it. The end of The Taste of Rice Flower powerfully displays familial healing in this context, but one has to wonder if its potency wanes under all that’s lost.

Published as part of CineCina Film Festival 2019.