The second film by the director, writer, blogger and professional rally pilot Han Han contains various autobiographical elements, as did his debut film The Continent (FEFF 2015). The attraction of Han Han, considered to be the voice of his generation, is partly due to the fact that his works are on the one hand highly personal and on the other, they project a sense of nostalgia for a past that, while being relatively recent, is already looked back upon as a simple, more innocent time, one in which the so-called “millennials” recognise themselves in – this nostalgia is underlined in Duckweed by the time-travelling of the main character, no doubt inspired by the classic films such as Back to the Future, as well as more recent Chinese success stories like Goodbye Mr. Loser and 20, Once Again (FEFF 2015).

opens with the long sequence of a breathtaking off-road rally race. Xu Tailang, the pilot of the winning car, publicly “thanks” his father Xu Zhengtai with a sarcastic tone for having abandoned him as a child and for never having encouraged him in anything. He then invites his father to jump into the car with him, beginning a terrifying race along the country roads, which ends when the car crashes against a train. In agony in his hospital bed, Tailang sees his life pass before his eyes, like in a film: he sees the key moments, like his sexual initiation with a prostitute, his first outings and failings as a car racer, the decision to become an ambulance driver before meeting a small-time gangland boss who gives him a car…

Suddenly he finds himself back in 1998, meeting his father when the latter was a young man, acting like a local gang chief and still single. After an initial moment of panic, Tailang decides to go along with whatever spell he is under, and tries to make inroads into his father’s life, mainly in the hope of meeting his mother, who committed suicide shortly after Tailang was born. He manages to befriend his father and joins his small gang, who act tough but in truth are somewhat naïve and have a strong sense of traditional honour. Tailang, knowing what the future holds, tries to convince them to take paths that will anticipate it, in riotously funny scenes, because they allude to contemporary China: they want to control a karaoke bar but protect the girls who work there, they think they can get rich dealing in pagers, they want to open a small video hall instead of a cinema, they think computer programming is a hobby for unemployed losers…

The only one who differs from the others in the gang is Xiao Ma, a character inspired by Tony Ma – one of the most successful Chinese entrepreneurs, the founder of WeChat and Tencent – whose passion for the potential of computer technology is derided by his friends: they think that the world will not change, but Xiao Ma is convinced it will – and is backed up by Tailang, who “knows” it will… In the end, Xiao Ma decides to leave, convinced that his destiny lies elsewhere, beyond the small world he grew up in. And, as we say, the rest is history…

Then when Zhengtai announces to Tailang that he is about to marry a girl whose name differs from that of his mother, he decides to put a spanner in the works, because otherwise he will never be born! This decision sets off a series of comic situations, some scandalous, others moving, and the final release is when Tailang awakens at the moment of his (re)birth…

The literal translation of the Chinese title of the film is “Ride the Winds, Break the Waves”. It has proved to be a major commercial hit, bringing in over a million RMB at the box-office.
Maria Barbieri
Film Director: Han Han
Year: 2017
Running time: 102
Country: China