The Red Awn

Minimalist rural Chinese relationship drama, broody, slow burning and well worth watching.

Released in 2007, certified UK-Not Yet Rated. Reviewed on 18 Jun 2008 by Scott Morris
The Red Awn image

We are often told that absence makes the heart grow fonder. Most frequently by writers like myself so steeped in cliche and self-indulgence that they can't operate in normal society mind you, but told this nonetheless. It would seem that the same received wisdom doesn't translate too well into Chinese, if this film is any indication.

Relationships between a father (Yao Anlian) and his son (Lu Yulai) are somewhat strained, as evidenced by a couple of counts of attempted murder on the kids part after his father nonchalantly wanders back from the city after five years of absence. I suppose, having had his father declared legally dead after his mother died, he only wanted to keep any paperwork to a minimum.

Over the course of the film their relationship does improve somewhat, although admittedly it's from a fairly shabby base. Father and son ply their trade with a fellow villager touring the country in a pretty red combine harvester as a sort of mercenary harvesting team, hiring themselves out to farmers not yet all mechanised up the wazoo. As an excuse for writer / debut director Cai Shangjun to show some stunning pastoral landscapes and pretty-as-a-picture landscapes its peerless, but there are more strings to the films bow than as a feast for the eyes.

The Red Awn image

It is however, not the paciest film I've seen of late. Revelations on why the father / son relationship has fallen into such disrepair are somewhat long in coming, with other elements of the pair's back story being similarly slow to develop. In absolute terms, there's nothing that will shatter the earth unveiled unto thee, yet it's certainly worth waiting for.

Indeed it's fair to say that this isn't the most event-filled film in the world, but it does manage to provide a slow burning, brooding tension between the pair that, for the most part, holds interest over the piece. It could perhaps do with being a quarter of an hour shorter, as despite compelling, near-silent performances from Yao Anlian, and Lu Yulai in particular, staring menacingly or wistfully at the camera can only go so far before it starts to become a shade repetitive.

Part of it's appeal is undoubtedly the strong cinematography, with bold and vibrant colors throughout that really show off the beauty of the landscapes. This vanishes somewhat after the two decide on a final reel move to the city, with the son seemingly doomed to repeat his fathers mistakes in some strange cycle. Let's call it the circle of life.

There's perhaps some element of the director railing against city life here, advocating a return to a simpler life, although perhaps I've got my over analyzing hat on again. Hopefully I do, as although the city sections are certainly the least of the film, this is perhaps a theoretical fault more than an actual one perhaps it's better if I casually sweep it under the rug for now. The Red Awn has a strong, simple story well told, and is likely to be one of the better films that we'll have reason to see this festival.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Cai Shangjun
Cast list:
Father (Yao Anlian)
Son (Lu Yulai)