Review of You and Me (China; 我们俩, 2006), A Beijing Film Studio presentation of a Fourth Prod. Co., China Film Group, Feima Southwest Movie & TV Art Development Center of Sichuan production. (International sales: China Film Group, Beijing.)
Director: Ma Liwen
Producers: Han Sanping, Jiang Tao, Lu Hongshi.
Executive Producer: Wang Daqing
Co-Producers: Zhao Haicheng, Wu Yakang.
Screenwriter: Ma Liwen
Editor: Zhan Haihong
Music: Dou Wei
Cinematographer: Wu Di, Wu Wai
Art Director: Liu Kedong
Sound: Zhang Jinyan
Cast: Jin Yaqin, Gong Zhe
Running time: 83 MIN.
Release in China: 2005.
Available at: http://us.yesasia.com
Shaoyi’s Rating: B+ (Very Good)
With two features dealing with the aged women and their troubled relations to either their siblings or strangers, woman director Ma Liwen, a graduate from Beijing-based Central Academy of Theater Arts, gains solid ground on a profession that is disproportionately dominated by BFA-educated (Beijing Film Academy) filmmakers. Gone is the One Who Held Me the Dearest (2002), Ma’s directorial debut, is adapted from a novella by a famed Chinese writer. This time, however, Ma scripted her own film, and the result of which is a story with literary refinement and psychological depth that looks as if it was adapted from a literary work.
You and Me is punctuated by four seasons, a structure that is increasingly favored by directors of art film. Picture starts with an impressive wide shot of the snow-covered barren landscape of Beijing, in which Xiao Ma, a newly arrived college freshman, is introduced. Looking for a cheap yet well-located place to live, she knocks on doors in cold weather and ends up with no choice but renting a cramped room in a siheyuan (a four-walled compound surrounding a central courtyard) owned by a seemingly stingy old woman in her 80s. From the first day Xiao Ma moves in, the unlikely couple finds each other intolerable and stubbornly selfish. While the old woman insists on unreasonable charges for phone, gas, and electricity, Xiao Ma fights her way to get it even. As the two feisty women spit out insults on each other, they also develop a strange closeness when the spring sunshine gradually melts away the cold winter. The old woman finds Xiao Ma a delightful remedy to her lonely life, while Xiao Ma discovers a warm and caring old lady behind the “mask” of stubbornness and eccentricity. The picture ends with Xiao Ma becoming an intimate friend to the old lady in her last days.
From the very beginning, the picture is dominated by a suffocating bluish look, which perfectly matches the spatial confinement resulted from extreme close-ups and monotonous life in the shabby siheyuan. The director skillfully explores the space and color, which almost turn into a third character besides the old lady and Xiao Ma. Jin Yaqin’s performance, for which she was crowned Best Actress at the Tokyo International Film Festival and the Golden Rooster Film Festival of China, is unforgettably superb and mesmerizing. Gong Zhe, on the other hand, brightens the film with her convincing portrayal of a college student in Beijing.
Ma’s script is not without flaws, however. In the scene where Xiao Ma comes home with a video camera to interview the old lady, for example, Ma could have used the rare opportunity to let the old lady reminisce her past so as to add depth and likeability to the character. The closeness between the old lady and Xiao Ma could have been exclamatorily reinforced by adding a scene in which the old lady hands the painting, although almost a part of her life, to Xiao Ma when she moves out of the siheyuan. It is true that film is the art of regrets, as the old saying proclaims, but these script flaws could be easily fixed before the camera starts to crank.