Chinese Reality #24: Longing for the Rain

To commemorate the film series Chinese Realities / Documentary Visions at the Museum of Modern Art(May 8-June 1), each day this month this blog will publish a brief primer on one of the 28 films selected in the series.

Today’s film:

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Longing for the Rain (dir. Yang Lina)

Chunmeng (Longing for the Rain)

2013. China. Directed by Yang Lina. With Siyuan Zhao, Jia Fu, Pong paz roj Dej.

MoMA program description:

Over the last 15 years, Yang Lina made her name as one of China’s most notable women documentarians. Her first narrative feature, in which a Beijing housewife is seduced by a mysterious phantom lover who threatens to destroy her comfortable middle-class life, is a daring hybrid of genres, mixing an erotic ghost story with a deeply personal religious quest. Yang’s surreal depiction of female sexuality is made even stranger by moments of social documentary, yielding a highly original vision of subjective desires commingling with China’s contemporary reality.

Excerpts from select reviews and writings:

The film reveals an urban middle-class malaise which is rarely touched upon in Chinese cinema, be it mainstream or independent: the former mostly subject female characters as either lovelorn figures in romantic dramas or comedies, while the latter usually situate women as individuals caught in the maelstrom of social changes sweeping across a country rushing towards its embrace of a market economy. Female physical desire has largely been marginalized, Yang said.

- Clarence Tsui, The Hollywood Reporter

The first real discovery of the festival. A film about a chinese upperclass woman who has vivid and plaesureful sex-dreams about a ghost. A somewhat trashy premise… And the great thing is, the film isn’t afraid of the lure of trashiness. On the contrary, it gives in, like its protagonist, to pleasure. Yang Tian-yi and her cameraman obviously had a lot of fun shooting the stylized sex scenes (every single one plays out in a decidedly different way, but all are in sharp contrast to the much rougher looking non-sex scenes), even a joint shower with the grandmother can turn into some kind of erotic play, other sequences are set to high-flying classical music. But pleasure is never constant, always fleeting. The images – never in danger of crystallizing into static beauty – move along in frantic pace, a busy film in a busy world, but not in a Soderberghian-trancelike-everything’s-connected-and-look-how-beautiful-digital-cinema-can-be-when-you’re-only-interested-in-surfaces-way. The world of the film is fleeting, but not ever-fleeting, but instead made up of a series of discrete shocks. Desire doesn’t get lost along the way, but it changes shapes and objects, like when the protagonist and her female frien visit different priests of different religions, maybe to get rid of the ghost, maybe to come closer to him. They just don’t know beforehand.

- Lukas Foerster, reporting from the Hong Kong International Film Festival, for Dirty Laundry

‘China is in a transitional period, but women’s economic liberation isn’t bringing independent lives,’ Yang says. ‘Traditional values have stuck as women become more passive in a social environment eroded by commercial values. Some young women now take a house and a car as a basic requirement before marriage, using money to weigh a relationship that follows in the historical concubine tradition.’

- Yang Lina, interviewed by Nicola Davison for Time Out Shanghai

“I am a documentary maker, but I noticed that I increasingly wanted to add fiction elements to my projects. So, mainly because this film’s theme is hard to capture in a documentary, I decided to experiment with fiction. It proved to be the most suitable form for what I had to say. Naturally, this created new problems. I am, for instance, accustomed to walking into an existing setting and recording the events that take place there. Now I had to construct everything and give my actors directions. Incidentally, I didn’t work with a script, but gave the actors specific orders per scene.’

- Yang Lina, interviewed by Maricke Nieuwdorp at the 2013 International Film Festival Rotterdam

Full length interview with Yang Lina with Xu Jia and Kevin B. Lee, at the 2013 International Film Festival Rotterdam