归途列车 (Last Train Home), 2009
Dir: Lixin Fan
It is pretty remarkable how themes can reassert themselves in a particular people, especially negative ones that are known, have been talked about openly, and then still nothing is done to change it. The cinema of a region seems to be no different. There are so many people in Asia that individuality can be a complex thing, particularity in a place like China. Last Train Home, at first, doesn't seem to be about this struggle. It seems to be more a documentary only concerned with the grand sweep of the huge movement of people that takes place every Chinese New Year, when the nation's 130 million migrant workers go home for the only time that year. The first shot (if I remember correctly) is just of this giant moving mass of people in a train station, fighting, pushing, trying to get on to trains that really don't have enough room for all of them. Fan must have thought however that a more personal level was needed to connect with all audiences, and the introduction of one migrant working couple, on their way home to their rural home to celebrate, comes pretty early. Not everything is so cozy at home though because their two kids, especially the older daughter, has more of a bond with the grandmother who is with them all year long than the parents who only come home once a year. The parents at first seemed pretty boring, if not also tragically stuck in their economic plight. They only have one thing to say to their kids which is "Study hard. Stay in school." Although this is basically the only thing they say, it is overbearing for the daughter who feels trapped in school and is dying to go off to work like the rest of her friends, which is her parents' worst fear. So, of course, she does it. The family dynamic is blown apart at a second gathering, as the daughter, trying to assert her independence, claims that the parents never really cared for them and even says "fuck," after which the usually placid father erupts, smacking her in the face and throwing her to the ground screaming "We've tolerated you!" It gets pretty intense. After this the daughter moves to a bigger city and get a job waiting at night club, and the last we see of her is dancing away on her night off, getting lost in the strobe lights. The parents continue to work until the mother finally decides that she has to go home; the grandmother won't live forever and they can't let what happened to their daughter happen to their son. And that is kind of how the film ends, with the mother on her way back home, separated for the first time in her life from her husband. Like I said before, this is the film within the film, which shows "the largest human migration on earth." Fan capture's everything beautifully, and the results are sad, haunting, and yet pretty inevitable if you have watched even a small amount of Asian cinema. Life is still disappointing for many people in East Asia.