Film review: Duckweed – nostalgia for late 1990s China in Han Han’s time-travelling drama

A sweet-natured tale of regret that yearns for simpler times, film tells the story of champion racer who, after a crash, awakes in the year before his birth and is disturbed by what he finds

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 March, 2017, 7:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 March, 2017, 10:46am

3/5 stars

Having made his feature debut with 2014’s The Continent, Chinese celebrity blogger/author/entrepreneur/rally driver Han Han again borrows from his own life experiences for Duckweed, his second directorial offering.

Deng Chao ( The Mermaid ) plays Xu Tailang, a champion rally driver, who is transported back in time following a near-fatal car crash. Awaking in 1998, the year before his birth, Tailang meets his estranged father, Zhengtai (Eddie Peng Yu-yan), a low-level hoodlum battling to retain control of a small karaoke bar.

Excited at the prospect of meeting his mother, who died in childbirth, Tailang is horrified to discover his dad is dating someone else, Hua Xiao (Zhao Liying). Despite not knowing what his real mum looks like, Tailang sets out to look for her, while also attempting to break up Zhengtai’s relationship by wooing Hua Xiao himself.

While clearly inspired by Robert Zemeckis’ Back to the Future, Han borrows only the essentials, creating his own nostalgic tribute to the glories of yesteryear. Sidestepping sci-fi elements altogether, Tailang’s adventure is propelled solely by a subconscious desire to reconnect with his parents, while China perches on the brink of an economic and technological revolution.

Despite being too old for his role, Deng makes Tailang surprisingly sympathetic. In the film’s opening, he is arrogant, dismissive of his father and reckless with both their lives – Zhengtai is also in the car when its crashes. While his journey of self-reflection and humility is entirely predictable, Deng infuses his character with an effortless charm, not least when he’s attempting to derail his father’s romance.

Peng and Zhao put in strong support, as does Han’s driving teammate Gao Huayang, whose slow-witted sidekick Liuyi proves the film’s most memorable character. Along the way there are also sly nods to the likes of Tencent founder Pony Ma Huateng. This is a sweet-natured tale of regret that yearns for simpler times in a country struggling to keep up with its own evolution.

Duckweed opens on March 23

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