Full Circle 飛越老人院
Contemporary light drama
2012, colour, 2.35:1, 104 mins
Directed by Zhang Yang (張楊)
By Derek Elley
Thu, 12 July 2012, 09:15 AM (HKT)
Comedy-drama about rebellious oldies is a beautifully played heartwarmer. Festivals, and niche ancillary.
A town in Ningxia province, northern China, the present day. Ge (Xu Huanshan) is a retired bus driver in his mid-70s whose son by his first marriage (Han Tongsheng) doesn't talk to him, and whose second wife, who died six months ago, willed their flat to her own son. Forced to move out, Ge goes to stay with his old friend Zhou (Wu Tianming), also a retired bus driver, who shares a room with the crazy Jin (Niu Ben) at Guanshan Old People's Home. Depressed at how his life has ended up, Ge contemplates suicide, but is given hope by the other inmates of the home. Zhou has recruited some of them into performing a comic sketch he hopes to enter into a Japanese TV competition whose China heat is to be held in Tianjin. During rehearsal, one of the group is injured, and the home's head (Yan Bingyan) forbids them to go to Tianjin. But Zhou is not dissuaded so easily, and he and Ge, along with four others, hatch a secret plan to "escape".
A beautifully played heartwarmer about a group of oldies who take charge of their own lives and "escape" from their retired people's home, Full Circle 飛越老人院 is handled with a lightness of touch that is new to the movies of writer-director ZHANG Yang 張楊. An uncategorisable film-maker who's handled a variety of subjects in the past 15 years — from the anthology Spicy Love Soup 愛情麻辣燙 (1997), through the drugs drama Quitting 昨天 (2001) and courtyard family tale Sunflower 向日葵 (2005), to yuppie drama Driverless 無人駕駛 (2010) — Zhang's films have always been performance-driven, and frequently touched on old age and the loneliness this can bring without the traditional Chinese support network of the family. In Full Circle, Zhang, now in his mid-40s, directly confronts the problem in a movie that combines elements from two of his best films (Shower 洗澡 (1999), with its mix of community and old age, and Getting Home 落葉歸根 (2006), with its road trip) but comes up with something that is warm, exhilarating, funny and finally poetic.
The key to the film is its simplicity. From the very first sequence of Old Zhou — played with terrific verve by 72-year-old WU Tianming 吳天明, a key director/producer of the '80s (Life 人生 (1984), Old Well 老井 (1987), plus the later The King of Masks 變臉 (1995)) — fooling around on stage in front of his rapt, aged audience, Zhang signals that this is going to be a heartwarmer with a few surprises. The biggest of those is that Full Circle is not just a light comedy about a bunch of plucky oldies, and not just a road movie in which the journey is the most important thing. The latter, in fact, only starts halfway through, and by then the audience already knows the characters so well that there are no revelations en route. Instead, Full Circle is more about people's ability to realise their dreams at any age, and to prove, as one character says, that there comes a time in parents' lives when they have to think of themselves for once, after a lifetime of self-sacrifice for their children.
There's nothing especially original in the idea, but the way in which it's handled by Zhang and regular writer Lola HUO 霍昕 largely avoids the obvious. The road trip is a relatively small part of the film — unlike in Getting Home, where it's the whole point — and is largely there to contrast the wide open spaces they travel through (including the grasslands of Inner Mongolia) with the claustrophobia of the traditional old mansion in which they are housed. Throughout, Zhang keeps a tight rein on the film's potential for both melodrama and cuteness, without shackling his cast too much.
As the widowed Old Ge who's been left homeless by his wife's will, XU Huanshan 許還山 (White Deer Plain 白鹿原), now in his mid-70s, brings a gentle dignity to the part that's underplayed throughout. As it turns out, it's actually Old Zhou who becomes the emotional centre of the film, largely thanks to Wu's bluff, hearty playing of a character whose backstory is equally, if not more sad, than Ge's. Though a running theme is how the oldies feel let down by their children, their individual backstories are only glancingly referred to. The sole exception is Ge's, which seems to stand as an example for them all: his story is fairly routine (a son who won't talk to him, a grandson who will) but its resolution is handled with simplicity and tenderness.
Among a strong supporting cast, YAN Bingyan 顏丙燕, a TV actress who's rarely got the big-screen roles (Teeth of Love 愛情的牙齒 (2006)) she deserves, stands out as the home's strict young head. Zhang has packed the film with older performers who meld together beautifully. However, in a move that's rather jarring, he's also packed it with cameos by bigger names who are more distracting than anything else — XU Fan 徐帆 popping up as Ge's avaricious daughter-in-law, Siqin Gaowa 斯琴高娃 as an old Mongolian nomad, and even CHEN Kun 陳坤 as a Tianjin doctor.
Technical credits are impeccable, from YANG Hongyu 楊紅雨's smooth
editing to the undemonstrative music by SAN Bao 三寶 (The Road Home 我的父親母親 (1999), Not One Less 一個都不能少 (1999)), which is never gentler or more subtle than in the poetic, almost wordless last reel. D.p. YANG Tao 楊濤 (Little Red Flowers 看上去很美 (2005), The Sun Also Rises 在太陽昇起的地方 (2007)), working for the first time with Zhang, conjures up some striking widescreen images, from the autumnal colours of the old home to the wide open spaces through which the oldies travel on their rickety old bus.
In tune with the realist-fairytale tone of the movie, the Chinese title roughly means The Flying Old People's Home.
ContactSales: Fortissimo Films, Amsterdam (email@example.com)
Premiere: Beijing Film Festival (opening film), 23 Apr 2012. Theatrical release: China, 8 May 2012.
Presented by Beijing Forbidden City Film (CN), China Film (CN), Mission Media Investment (Shanghai) (CN), Desen International Media (CN), Modern Creative Media Institute of Beijing Film Academy (CN), Youth Film Studio (CN), He Li Chen Guang International Culture Media (CN). Produced by Desen International Media (CN), China Film (CN), Confucius Sez International Film & TV Culture Media (CN). Executive producers: Han Sanping, Xu Jianhai, Li Li, Ann An, Ma Yongsheng, Xie Xiaojing, Miao Yiyi. Producers: Ann An, Fan Xin.
Script: Zhang Yang, Lola Huo, Zhang Chong. Original idea: Liu Fendou. Photography: Yang Tao. Editing: Yang Hongyu. Music: San Bao. Art direction: An Bin. Costume design: Xiang Honghui. Sound: Jiang Peng. Visual effects: ProFX Studio.
Cast: Xu Huanshan (Ge), Wu Tianming (Zhou), Li Bin (Mrs. Li), Yan Bingyan (head of old people's home), Wang Deshun (Lin), Cai Hongxiang (Qian), Tang Zuohui (Huang), Jiang Hualin (Zhang), Jia Fengsen (Zheng), Niu Ben (Jin), Han Tongsheng (Ge's son), Gao Ge (Ge's grandson), Liu Dong (man with Parkinson's), Zhang Huaxun (Sun), Wang Liansheng (Zhao), Chen Zhihong (Mrs. Chen), Yao Gang (Qian's son), Shang Tiantong (Fan, nurse), Cheng Yi (Xia, nurse), BoBo Hu (Cui), Chen Ping (wife of Ge's son), Kinki Feng (wife of Ge's grandson), Shi Yulin (guard), Jin Hong (boss), Tian Hua, Tao Yuling, Guan Zongxiang, Huang Suying, Zhong Xinghuo, Liu Jiang, Siqin Gaowa, Zhong Xinghuo, Xu Fan, Chen Kun, Liao Fan, Guo Jinglin, Sunny Dai.