An­other flick shines light on the prob­lems faced by the elderly

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XU­FAN

Hot on the heels of A Sim­ple Life (2012) and Hap­pi­ness (2016), an­other art-house film is por­tray­ing the ag­ing pop­u­la­tion strug­gling with sick­ness and lone­li­ness.

The Song of Cot­ton, adapted from Chi­nese Amer­i­can nov­el­ist Ha Jin’s novella A Pen­sion Plan, was pre­viewed on Sun­day and will be re­leased across the coun­try on Nov 4.

An Amer­ica’s Na­tional Book Award win­ner, Ha wrote A Pen­sion Plan in English and trans­lated the short story — fea­tured in his 2009 book A Good Fall — into a 10,000char­ac­ter Chi­nese ver­sion.

Among the few Chi­nese au­thors writ­ing in English, Ha is known for his in-depth ex­am­i­na­tion of im­mi­grant con­flicts and con­tem­po­rary China.

But to make the film res­onate with a do­mes­tic au­di­ence, the back­ground for A Pen­sion Plan — a Chi­nese im­mi­grant neigh­bor­hood in the United States — is changed to Beijing in the movie, and the tale is ex­panded, says Zhu Yuancheng. The 33-year-old direc­tor is a grad­u­ate of the Beijing Film Academy, a cra­dle for film­mak­ers and celebri­ties.

For his films, Zhu fa­vors re­al­is­tic sub­jects in a rapidly chang­ing China, which in some senses re­flect ur­ban-ru­ral con­flicts and women’s rights.

But in the film in ques­tion the sto­ry­line is heart­warm­ing.

In the 90-minute movie, Mr Sheng, an elderly wid­ower suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s, de­vel­ops a close con­nec­tion with his care­giver Mian­hua (Cot­ton), who has ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ries of mis­for­tunes, but sees hope thanks to Sheng’s en­cour­age­ment.

“Every per­son grows old one day. But will there be some­one to ac­com­pany you un­til the end?” asks Zhu, ex­plain­ing the mes­sage he wants to con­vey.

Through the film, based partly on mem­o­ries of his child­hood spent with his grand­par­ents, Zhu hopes to raise public aware­ness about the elderly, as well as other so­cial prob­lems.

Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics show that China has a large ag­ing pop­u­la­tion, with up to 222 mil­lion, or 16.5 per­cent, over 60 at the end of 2015, says Wang Hong­wei, the film’s con­sul­tant and a pro­fes­sor at the academy.

“But only a few films fea­ture this group and talk about their prob­lems,” says Wang.

Call­ing the lone­li­ness ex­pe­ri­enced by the elderly “a dilemma” for them as well as their adult chil­dren, Wang says that eco­nomic stresses and the fast pace of big cities force peo­ple to work and ig­nore their par­ents.

Mean­while, de­spite its se­ri­ous theme, the film also has its light mo­ments. For in­stance, in one scene Mr Sheng sleep­walks to Mian­hua’s bed, scar­ring her, but his mum­bling about his love for his de­ceased wife touches the lat­ter.

In the film, Sheng is played by 80-year-old ac­tor Wang Deshun, known­for the fan­tasy hit Miss Granny. Mian­hua is played by award-win­ning ac­tress Yan Bingyan, hailed as an “in­die movie god­dess”.

So far, the film, which has been re­leased at sev­eral movie fes­ti­vals, has gar­nered many ac­co­lades, both at home and abroad.

At the 19th Shang­hai In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in May, the film bagged four awards, in­clud­ing best ac­tress and best new­bie direc­tor.

In Septem­ber, the film won the best screen play award at the 1st Italy China Film Fes­ti­val.

But de­spite the crit­i­cal ac­claim, most such films strug­gle to make it com­mer­cially.

The late direc­tor, Wu Tian­ming’s Song of Phoenix, a film based on a suona (a Chi­nese dou­ble-reed wood­wind in­stru­ment) player had to rely on pro­ducer Fang Li’s sen­sa­tional “kow­tow” to win more screen­ings.

Then, there was the Ber­lin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val’s Sil­ver Bear-win­ning Cross­cur­rent, which raked in only 200,000 yuan ($29,500) at the box of­fice at its pre­miere, while most com­mer­cial hits eas­ily sur­pass 10 mil­lion yuan on the first day.

But de­spite the dark clouds loom­ing for art-house films and the view that “it is the best era for films, but also the worst time for art-house ti­tles”, the cast of the movie be­lieve a good tale can suc­ceed at the box of­fice.

As Yan says: “I still be­lieve art-house films have their charm.”

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Ac­torWang Deshun, 80, plays Mr Sheng in TheSon­gofCot­ton.

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