We all must face up to our choices
The decade following the splendor and fanfare of the Beijing Olympics Games has seen incredible growth in the Chinese capital. Actress turned director Rene Liu’s poignant romantic feature Us and Them tries to capture the impact of the socioeconomic process on the lives and mental trajectories of individuals in its depiction of young dream chasers who arrive in the booming capital.
Liu’s rendering of young love and reflection comes with a stinging poignancy so strong that it pushed viewers, many of them professionals in their late 20s to mid-30s, to compare their own experiences with the passionate yet futile love between Jianqing and Xiaoxiao. The female director’s sensitive and sympathetic approach to the subject matter rouses strong emotions, especially among the many young people who’ve come to the city seeking a similar future.
This realism-backed poignancy is distinctly different from other TV and movie renditions of young people chasing their dreams in Beijing. Instead of presenting the fake high-spiritedness and optimism seen in other dramatic depictions of contemporary urban life in China’s first-tier cities, Us and Them is true to life because it shows the irreversibility of life’s big choices. It’s about what to do, how to do it,
with whom and the irrevocability of such choices. Many people came out of the cinema teary-eyed and then posted about the film on their WeChat Moments or Weibo. In this connection, I tend to feel hope and optimism, as I see my countrymen introspect, retrospect and reconcile with life’s many happenings and grow stronger mentally to cope with the evolving dynamics that are a part of China’s tremendous social transformation.
However, I still have one issue with Liu’s first adventure into movie directing. It has to do with Jianqing’s meteoric rise to become a gaming industry executive. How come his success in the hard battleground of the Chinese capital was so easy? While understanding that there is room for a dramatic storyline to pit both lives against each other, the many good souls sympathetic toward Jianqing and Xiaoxiao must guard against this over romanticization.
Hard work, not sheer luck reigns in Beijing, although keeping hope alive and having the bravery to have dreams still help a lot.
What helps even better, I’d say, would be the capacity to cherish the moment, the things you have and the people around. This might represent our ultimate path to reconciling the conflict between practicalities and wishful thinking and thus become the elixir to achieving peace of mind in the bustling world.
Many years ago, Jianqing and Xiaoxiao chose to let go, and their choices provoked us to think. Now, Jianqing and Xiaoxiao have to learn to reconcile and carry on with their lives. Even as moviegoers, I don’t think we have the right to judge what’s better or what might have been better for them. But we do have our own decisions to make every day about what to do, how to do it, and with whom to do it.