Back to the Wharf
After his place at university is unfairly given to someone else, exemplary student Song Hao’s (Zhang Yu) day gets exponentially worse when a heated confrontation leads to murder. Having been on the run for 15 years, he returns to the place where it all happened for his mother’s funeral. He soon reconnects with an old classmate as he tries to get his life back on track, but the ghosts of his past ultimately haunt him. In Back to the Wharf, director Li Xiofeng crafts a wistful, noir-flavoured drama that draws ire at the corruption lingering in Chinese society.
Yu gives an excellent and nuanced performance in the starring role. Hao has been beaten down for most of his existence and the actor etches each day of suffering that his character has endured on his face with quiet ease. The protagonist is the epitome of tragedy, and he evokes the audience’s deepest sympathies. However, the real lead of this picture is the rain-drenched seaside town where everything takes place. Brought to life with a tantalisingly bluesy (if sometimes overly sentimental) soundtrack and cinematography to match, the dreary streets have all the grit and character of classic Hollywood cinema. The crux of this film stems from the atmosphere the setting creates. Even when there isn’t much action happening (which is most of the movie), the meaning of every scene is understood.
As a mood piece, Back to the Wharf is a gleeful blend of family drama and classic noir. As a drama, however, Xiofeng’s film falls noticeably short. Hao’s past constantly hangs over his head though it never feels close enough to become an immediate threat. When he does finally crack from the pressure that’s been slowly building, the moment, along with the catharsis it brings, doesn’t have the impact that it should. This sense of unfilled potential likewise carries over to the ending. The final scenes are beautifully shot and poetic in their symbolism, but the substance just isn’t there for it to work as intended.
Back to the Wharf does not have a UK release date yet.
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Watch the trailer for Back to the Wharf here: