Another buzz film of the 14th Shanghai International Film Festival, which is also on my recommendation list, is the China-Taiwan co-production Return Ticket (到阜阳六百里, 85 min.). This small budget film is a result of the increasingly common practice of filmmaking in China, with a production team and casting talents coming from mainland China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan. The film was directed by young Taiwanese filmmaker Teng Yung-hsing (his second feature), produced by strong-willed Shanghai woman Shan Lanping, whose credits are mostly in the TV area before this film, and the legendary Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien assumed the executive producer’s role. My longtime friend and colleague Shi Chuan, nicknamed River Stone, was involved in the film’s pre-production planning and development.
If one is not familiar with the “returning home at all cost” frenzy during China’s Spring Festival season, which is the sole driving motive that determines every character’s ways of behavior in Return Ticket, it might be helpful to first watch the much acclaimed documentary Last Train Home (2009, 归途列车), in which the spectacular scenes of millions of Chinese hustling along at every major train station and trying to catch the last train home just before the traditional Spring Festival are astonishingly documented. To a large extent, Return Ticket is a prequel of Last Train Home, which, in a semi-documentary style, tells the story of a group of female migrant workers from the same town of Anhui but now working as nannies or housemaids in Shanghai, desperately wanting to return home during the holiday season.
Return Ticket benefits from its good script and casting. Uniting the otherwise fragmented story is an old stolen bus that is being prepared to take Fuyang nannies and housemaids back home, and Qin Hailu, the unique-looking mainland actress whose earlier career is marked by her outstanding performance in Durian Durian (2000), plays a calculating Fuyang woman helping to sell bus tickets to her fellow countrywomen. The film’s realistic feel and controlled craftsmanship also come from its refusal to romanticize or moralize Shanghai’s semi-underclass. They are portrayed simply as a group of hard working people (no matter which method they use) who, because of their migrant status, may find it difficult to call Shanghai “home” and, after they do make it to their hometown, may also find it hard to call it “home.”
Return Ticket won Best Director Award in the Asian New Talent Award Competition, the only formal category at SIFF that carries a cash reward. Director Teng Yung-hsing was issued a RMB150,000 check (US$23,000) at the awarding ceremony.