Saturday, November 05, 2016

Film review: SOMEONE TO TALK TO [一句顶一万句] (Liu Yulin, 2016)

A couple get married, full of love and hope for their future together. Several years down the line, they barely speak a word to each other. Around their anniversary, one discovers the other has been cheating on them and filled with murderous rage, revenge becomes their raison d'être as they do everything they can to ruin their spouse's life.

Actually, I'm not retelling the plot for Gone Girl, but Liu Yulin's debut movie Someone to Talk to. Adapted from the 2011 Mao Dun Literature Prize, 一句顶一万句is an economical yet intimate look at what happens after the love has gone out of a marriage and feelings of resentment at having one's heart broken fester.

Niu Aigo (Hai Mao) is the jilted husband, who tries his best as the patriarch of the family, but unfortunately his modest earnings as a cobbler and simple vision for their future aren't to the pleasure of his wife, who has outgrown him, and has an affair with the wealthier local wedding planning magnate. The film is considerably less kind to her, and rightly so, given she makes comments that make her seem like a  right gold-digging shrew. Woman knew her husband was poor when he married her; she doesn't get to screw everything up when that slowly sinks in.

In only his second film role, Hai Mao is just wonderful as a man who, after being wronged, is all affront and sharp edges, until self-realisation (and a few convenient plot machinations) give him the self-realisation to let go and become a stronger person for it.

His character essentially goes through all five stages of grief through the course of the film, and in doing so, exhibits some spiteful colours. But it's a testament to Mao's humane, heartfelt performance that even at his lowest points, you're rooting for this guy to pull through. His character was reminiscent of John C. Reilly in Chicago, another pitiable cuckold, and it's rare that cinema not only focuses on the person who's been left behind, but the person who was left behind happens to be male.

Someone to Talk to also features a subplot about Aigo's older sister's ill-fated online dating adventures and how she eventually settles, because, as she matter-of-factly states, 'I'm 39. I couldn't get anyone younger'. This kind of pragmatic, frank dialogue makes Someone to Talk to by far the most honest Chinese film I've seen this year (although there's not much in the way of competition).

Liu Yulin directs the story in such an unfussy, natural manner, with a working class Chinese town as the backdrop, I was invested in the plot in a way other films with more frills have failed to achieve. One scene, where Aigo angrily takes his frustration at his wife gallivanting out on his young daughter, carried genuine pathos and was far more powerful than anything I watched in yesterday's manufactured, sappy, The Shite Between Oceans.

I like a good revenge flick a hell of a lot more thanas much as the next person. Films like Gone Girl and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo contain scenes which imbue me with sadistic wish fulfilment at various men who have wronged me. I myself can nurse a grudge for quite a while, although my modus operandi is significantly less bloody and a tad pettier than anything Amy Dunne or Lisbeth Salander confect; that bellend Stefan who racially abused me over a year ago is immortalised in my Fantasy Football team name, 'Stefan is a Kuntz'.

But there's a lot to be said for Someone to Talk To's more forgiving approach. 

Someone to Talk to is a sincere and profound look at loneliness and the multifaceted nature of marriage, elevated by the magnanimous treatment it gives its protagonist. It illustrates how toxic holding onto past transgressions can be, not just to oneself, but to those that we love. Ultimately, it encourages the protagonist and the audience to look beyond, not behind.

Perhaps it's time I, like Aigo, made like Elsa from Frozen, and Let It Go. Good news for Wasteman, Watford fan and The Wolf of Fleet Street, then.



If you enjoyed this review, do check out my other ones, which include a fair few Chinese movies.

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