Streetwise (Gaey Wa’r)
Amidst the headline-stealing, award-hoovering films on display at the Cannes Film Festival, Gaey Wa’r (Streetwise for the international audience), a lesser-heralded crime drama by debut feature director Na Jiazuo, is eyeing the Camera d’Or, having garnered prizes at both the Shanghai and Pingyao festivals. Assisting Na Jiazou on this debut is celebrated director (turned mentor to numerous Chinese directors) Guan Hu (The Eight Hundred), taking on the executive producer role.
Gaey Wa’r appears to be a shortening or local version of the Mandarin “jiē wá er”, roughly translated as “street kids’” This points towards the theme of the film, which focuses on the travails of youth living in rural China. The social context is noteworthy, as the narrative is set in the early 2000s (2004, to be precise), a period of mass-migration to China’s ever-expanding megacities.
The central figure among these young people struggling along in Zhenwu, an almost-forgotten place in Sichuan province, is Dong Zi (Li Jiuxiao), a henchman with an apparent penchant for complicated relationships. Hardly happy with this work-life combination, Dong Zi finds succour in a delicate, difficult romance. It’s not an easy life. It doesn’t get much easier, either, as a dramatic turn of events has him further mired in internal (and external, for that matter) conflict.
The film follows the protagonist’s attempts to break free from this vicious cyclical life of pain and poverty. The whole thing almost feels like a countdown – a chase scene wherein Dong Zi is running towards a vision of the future, unable to take a firm grasp. It’s pulsating viewing.
An eerie original soundtrack encases the viewer in a moody, often bleak space. The humming, droning sound design complements the dusty, gloomy pallet. Most of the action seems to take place in the gloaming, or when the sun is obscured by smog or cloud, as if it never shines on this part of the world. I
Gaey Wa’r is an accomplished debut, infused with drama, suspense and has a certain Sliding Doors moment tilt, encapsulating different stories and different lives in just these 90 minutes.
Streetwise (Gaey Wa’r) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2021 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Streetwise (Gaey Wa’r) here: