Director Li Ruijun’s film about financial struggles in China hits all the right dramatic notes, without going over the top.
“The price goes up every day.”
These are the words uttered almost constantly by a realtor, as Yang Yaoting (Yang Zishan) looks desperately for an apartment to buy her parents. After a series of layoffs, the Yang family up and leave the Shenzhen for a cheaper, healthier life in Gansu. However, older sister Yaoting moves back to the city in an attempt to save enough money for this endeavour, as it seems she harbours some guilt for being the reason her parents were unable to buy one themselves.
Her nose-job-obsessed roommate introduces her to a new acquaintance – opportunist Xinming (Yin Fang) – whose job is to find participants for paid clinical trials. Yaoting is hesitant due to the health risks, but with the constant pressure from her realtor to put a deposit down, she accepts. There she starts a complicated relationship with the boy, as it starts to become apparent that the stranger she has shared her thoughts and fears on IM – a guy known only as Desert Ship – is Xinming himself.
OK, from my synopsis you might be forgiven for thinking this is a romantic drama. It’s honestly quite refreshing to know that it isn’t; there’s basically no romantic subject matter in here at all. But, in exchange, we do have a pretty bleak story about financial ruin, lay-offs and the risks people are willing to take just to do right by their parents. Thankfully director Li Ruijun reins it in whenever it runs the risk of going too far into Requiem for a Dream territory It’s a dramatic, almost tragic film that doesn’t shove it down your throat. Li does a lot with his camera throughout the movie, but does so in a spectacularly subtle way. He’s a man who understands the language of cinema but uses the techniques in a way that’s fitting to the simple aesthetic he’s trying to curate.
The acting is superb here, with the actors finding a perfect balance between the big, dramatic moments and the quieter more subtle scenes. Yang Zishan is especially good, leading us through her character’s journey with a steely determination and youthful naiveté that makes Yaoting tough and vulnerable in a way we can all relate to. Li Ruijun is known for casting non-professionals in his movies, and with the exception of Yang it’s been difficult to get a sense of who’s a professional and who isn’t, but the fact that I can’t tell is a testament to Li’s direction, writing and the cast’s performances. Combined, they’re able to sell even some of the movie’s sillier moments.
And it isn’t short on them either. One of the inciting incidents for the family moving back to Gansu is the factory the father worked at is destroyed by a landslide only a day after he was laid off. Then there’s the fact that both Xinming and Yaoting are talking to each other on IM without knowing who the other is. It’s a goofy plot point that’s more reminiscent of You’ve Got Mail but it’s handled with a seriousness that works surprisingly well. That they don’t linger on these moments too long is definitely a boon and prevents the audience from getting too distracted by these plot contrivances.
Ultimately, Walking Past the Future is a good film that’s heavy on the dramatics without being overbearing. It keeps its focus where it needs to – though it might benefit from a more streamlined opening act – and doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t. It definitely has some things to say about housing in China, the current job market over there as well as the lengths some people will go to for money but it doesn’t get too preachy. There are no right or wrongs, villains or heroes. There are just people, doing whatever they can to get by and support those around them. It wears its honesty on its sleeve and that’s sometimes more than enough.
Verdict: Its slow pace and dramatic beats might be to everyone’s tastes, but Walking Past the Future does plenty right with its subject matter.
Overall entertainment: 8/10
Dream sequences: 1
Information online about this movie: Absolutely nothing. There isn’t even a trailer!
Walking Past the Future (2017)
Also known as: 路过未来
Director: Li Ruijun
Writer: Li Ruijun
Yang Zishan – Yang Yaoting
Yi Fang – Xinming
Others, but again I can’t find anything online