So Long, My Son
Where to start with Wang Xiaoshuai’s (Beijing Bicycles) epic So Long, My Son? Nearly three hours of anguish, drama, tragedy, beauty and willpower will leave you emotionally exhausted, your heart straining as it processes its experience. That’s if it hasn’t already been crushed into a fine dust by the many moments of heartbreak that permeate this immaculately realised family drama.
But So Long, My Son is so much more than just that. It’s a generation-spanning family chronicle. It’s all the complex repercussions of the terrible events to befall that family. It’s a brutal, naked study of life during China’s cultural revolution of the 1970s, culminating in the introduction of the one-child policy. And it’s even more than all of that. But let’s begin with that final theme, which looms large over the film.
Communist party diktat must be obeyed in China, and the policies of the party weigh heavy on the characters in this film. Everyday life is governed strictly, and the feature draws the source of much of its anguish from the public’s strict requirement to follow the law, in this instance the one-child policy. Here we witness a devastatingly personal and intimate instance of the law’s inherent callousness.
So Long, My Son’s overarching theme, however, is undoubtedly family. Stripped bare, this picture follows a family through an ambitious narrative structure that spans almost five decades. The story can shoot forward then spring back to key moments, then jump forward another 20 or so years. It should be confusing, but it’s not. Wang has clearly deliberated over the order of flashbacks and plot points laboriously, resulting in a wonderfully woven story that demands all your attention constantly.
The family the movie focuses on, or rather the couple, are Liyun (Yong Mei) and Yaojun (Wang Jingchun). They have a boy, and are forced to give up a second child after the one-child policy is made law. Barely surviving the trauma of that hospital visit, the beleaguered couple are struck again by tragedy shortly after.
Heartbroken, Liyun and Yaojun move away, looking to escape the misery and suffering back in their home city. Alas, they can’t escape their past, nor can they accept it. What follows is hours of deeply affecting journeys, interwoven seamlessly.
The cast, cinematographers, editors and writers all excel, everyone playing their part in Wang’s perfectly fulfilled vision. It’s a cinematic wonder, a testament to film’s power to devastate, delight and astonish.
So Long, My Son is released in select cinemas on 6th December 2019.
Watch the trailer for So Long, My Son here: