How Is Your Fish Today?
Xiaolu Guo, UK & China, 2006, 83 mins
“My life is like that of a plant, waiting for the seasons to change me.”
Disenfranchised and disillusioned Rao Hui, a financially successful, 33 year old, Beijing based, television soap-opera script writer, has settled into a life in which he feels that he is little more than a spectator. He came to Beijing 17 years earlier from a small southern village, determined to write feature films. But each script that he pens is banned and he has to “settle” with success as a television writer. Disconnected from his hometown and family and unknown to neighbors and his community, Rao Hui’s solitary life has become mundane. An existence rather than a life “lived”. While his work friends all seem to have loving relationships and fulfilling careers, his own life has taken on a grey sameness, punctuated only by the rotation of house plants and goldfish as they die and are replaced.
Obsessed with Hollywood films and tired of his work being banned, when Rao Hui finally lands a job writing for an important film producer, he rents The Fugitive and quickly writes a script entitled “Northern Lights” in which the main character, Lin Hao, goes on the run after killing his lover. The producer rejects the work as “the worst script he had ever read”. After the initial sting of rejection wears off, Rao Hui re-reads “Northern Lights” and agrees that the script is cliché and the characters are not well fleshed-out or believable. He decides to start the story again. This time however, he throws himself into the task of “getting to know” Lin Hao and in the process begins a journey that leads him to understand himself.
Acclaimed film maker, Xiaolu Guo’s unique take on the popular “disillusioned 30-something” genre is refreshing, in this, her first feature length film. Western audiences may be surprised that failure to appreciate the trapping of social and financial success is not limited to ultra-capitalistic societies. In addition to effectively expressing Rao’s dissatisfaction, Guo does a masterful job of portraying the real contradiction of his life, without rendering him pathetic or making him a character that viewers don’t associate with. In fact, Rao’s (and Lin’s) journey to Mohe, China’s mysterious, northern most, village, is almost universally appealing as people can identify with the idea that their lives would be better if only they could find their own version of Eden.
Added: Wednesday, August 09, 2006
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