Film review: Up in the Wind explores the Chinese concept of face
UP IN THE WIND
Starring: Ni Ni, Jing Boran, Liu Zi
Director: Teng Huatao
Category: TBA (Putonghua)
The comparisons will be inevitable: essentially, Teng Huatao has made a mainland variation of Eat, Pray, Love. Sure, there's minimal eating, little praying, and no love to be made (even though, in typical rom-com fashion, the two leads go from combative antagonism to warm camaraderie). But it's still a pseudo-introspective journey about finding oneself by getting lost in the world.
Cheng Yumeng (Ni Ni) is a small-town girl struggling to climb the career ladder in cut-throat Shanghai. She's already given up her journalistic ideals to write fluff for a lifestyle magazine. Now, her boss (Liu Zi) - another Prada-wearing devil editor - has, at the last minute, cancelled Cheng's planned trip to Tuscany and, instead, is sending her on a story to Nepal.
Teng, with screenwriter Bao Jingjing (who wrote the source novel A Travelogue, or a Guidebook), nails the ideological need in modern China for face and facade. Cheng tries hard to hide her peasant roots by doing things such as humiliating a Western chef in front of her friends by criticising his food, and even pointing out flaws in the restaurant lighting.
Her boss has an equally shallow life. Beneath the fashion couture and a calendar full of cocktail events, she's just another fishball-eating yokel. As she snacks, she spews a diatribe to Cheng about how selling vacant fantasies, not life's reality, will ensure their magazine's success.
Stuck with a small group of mainland tourists in Nepal, Cheng turns up her nose at their uncouth manners and obnoxious loudness. Worst among them is Wang Can (Jing Boran), a drunken spoiled brat.
Cheng's initial indignation seems cinematic foreplay, but Teng resists the urge to merge the couple. The sad oppressed girl and the poor rich boy do eventually end up in the back seat of a car, but his stinky feet lie next to her head; it's not very romantic.
Instead, Teng is attracted by the quasi-spiritual enlightenment of characters connecting with an elephant at midnight, and paragliding in the Himalayas.
The film has no idea about the realities of media publications, and while it is a terrific advertisement for Nepal tourism, the realities of Kathmandu are a little less romantic than the movie suggests.
The biggest issue is the ending, which offers no dramatic pay-off whatsoever. The conclusion's quiet symbolic gesture just doesn't cut it; Cheng doesn't even finish her story. Maybe, by then, both she - and the film - have run out of puff.
Up in the Wind opens on March 13