ContactSales: Beijing Sense Media, Beijing (firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com)
Premiere: China Image Film Festival, London, Sep 2011. Theatrical release: China, 17 Jul 2012.
Presented by Shenzhen Media Vision Goldring Film & TV Investment (CN), Beijing Huihua Dongfang Culture Investment (CN). Produced by Beijing Longhai Starlight Media (CN). Executive producers: He Ming, Xu Yu. Producers: Wang Haiping, Tian Youcai, Barbra Ding, Zhang Xixi.
Script: Wang Haiping. Photography: Peter Ngor. Editing: Jiang Hua. Music: Liu Sijun. Art direction: Qu Haibo. Sound: Wang Yu. Executive director: Liu Chiang.
Cast: Alex Fong (Zhang Qing), Qin Lan (Li Yan), Wang Pei (Fang Yun), Fang Zichun (Auntie Li, the nanny), Chen Siyang (Zhang Qiang), Wu Ma (Zhang Qing's father), Zhou Xiaoou (Zhang Qing's brother-in-law), Sun Guitian (Zhang Qing's mother), Dan Zili, Tian Miaomiao.
Be a Mother 母語
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 91 mins
Directed by Yu Zhong (俞鍾)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 21 January 2013, 09:30 AM (HKT)
Un-soupy chamber drama of surrogate motherhood, with standout playing by actress Qin Lan. Asian events.
Beijing, summer 2007. Recently returned from the UK, after six months away, research biologist Zhang Qing (Alex Fong) again discusses with his wife, celebrity TV reporter Fang Yun (Wang Pei), the idea of having a child by a surrogate mother. Fang Yun has already miscarried three times and is afraid of trying again, as well as having no time in her busy career. But like her husband, she feels the pressure from her parents to have a child, so agrees to Zhang Qing's idea. From several applicants they settle on Li Yan (Qin Lan), a young woman from out of town who came to Beijing to try to become an actress but has ended up in menial jobs and needs the money to send to her father. The three draw up a private contract, Li Yan moves into the couple's lavish house, and she soon becomes pregnant following artificial insemination. Some six months later, all is going smoothly: with Fang Yun constantly traveling for her job, Zhang Qing, who is working at home on a research proposal, looks after Li Yan, who does light housework to occupy her time. Zhang Qing's parents (Wu Ma, Sun Guitian) come by, delighted at the progress. Feeling a little cut out, Fang Yun tries to re-assert her role as the child's "mother" but is rarely around long enough. Early the following year, the child is born - which is when the problems start.
Singer-TV actress QIN Lan 秦嵐, who was one of the best things about LU Chuan 陸川's The Last Supper 王的盛宴 (2012), is the main reason to watch the much more modest Be a Mother 母語 (2011), shot and released prior to the splashier costume drama. Billed as China's first movie on surrogate motherhood, and apparently based on a true story, it's a surprisingly good, chamber-like undertaking — entirely set in a single house — that's all the better for not following expectations and veering off into melodrama. Simply plotted, with a yuppie couple hiring a young surrogate mother and installing her in their lavish home on a year's contract, the film sticks resolutely to its subject of what actually makes a mother without becoming drily procedural or concocting any sexual triangle. A neat twist perks up the final 20 minutes.
It's a movie driven entirely by its performances and script, and by the unforced direction of YU Zhong 俞鍾, who made his name a decade ago with the "identity" dramas, Roots and Branches 我的兄弟姐妹 (2001) and Far From Home 我的美麗鄉愁 (2002), but has since worked mostly in TV drama. Aided by precise, well-lit photography by veteran Hong Kong d.p. Peter NGOR 敖志君, Yu never makes the film feel constrained by its single setting and also never makes it feel like a de facto theatre play, either. Art direction by QU Haibo 曲海波 makes the house look spacious and discreetly moneyed, without being ostentatious, with plenty to attract the eye between the actors. Quiet scoring by LIU Sijun 劉思軍 (Dam Street 紅顔 (2005)) is another plus.
Playing her real age here, rather than much older as the ruthless empress in Supper, Qin, 31, who was memorable as the wife in Lu's City of Life and Death 南京！南京！ (2009), starts discreetly as the dutiful surrogate and builds her character through small layerings as the story proceeds. It's an intelligent, completely un-vampy performance that defies expectations and has a quiet power by the end. In her first big-screen role, TV actress WANG Pei 汪裴 (General Ye Ting 葉挺將軍, 2009) is less nuanced as the career-driven wife but believable as a career-driven TV reporter, while Hong Kong's Alex FONG Chung-sun 方中信, though not ideally cast as the scientist husband caught in a dry marriage, is okay.
The script by producer WANG Haiping 王海平, who wrote the very different anti-Japanese war drama Hushed Roar 咆哮無聲 (2012) (also starring Wang Pei), doesn't get sidetracked by the mechanics of finding surrogate mothers, apart from briefly showing it done on the internet. Instead, it focuses on the biological and emotional aspects of motherhood, mirrored in the film's Chinese title which has the double-meaning of "mother tongue" and "mother's words", a key point in the second half.