Life is precarious but it is also a magnificent adventure, and everyone has to overcome their own existential “boundaries.” This seems to be the message of Huo Meng’s second film, a very personal work, which he wrote, directed and edited, as well as selecting the songs for the soundtrack. The film is dedicated to Huo Meng’s grandfather, whose dream of going to see an old friend remained unfulfilled when he was still alive; after his death, his grandson wanted to pay homage to him with this poetic road movie that imagines the journey that his grandfather would have wanted to make, becoming an opportunity to reflect on the theme of life and death.
The plot unfolds around a child who is left for the summer holidays with his grandfather in a village in Henan because his father is working and his mother is about to give birth to their second child – a pointer at the changes occurring in China’s demographic policy. Obviously, the child is bored at first, he spends time glued to his mobile phone playing video games; he is affectionate with his grandfather, but distant. After a few days, his grandfather hears that an old friend on the verge of death wants to see him one last time. Without hesitation, he packs his bags, and with his grandson sets off on a journey in his three-wheeler which converts into a camper, to join his friend who is in hospital in a city thousands of miles away. An old wise man and a very young, still innocent boy make for the perfect combination to converse about life. These conversations are also stimulated by those they encounter along the way, including a young depressed fisherman, a gruff truck driver and a lonely beekeeper who can only talk with the help of a machine. The grandfather tells them and his grandson about his past, without descending into overt sentimentality; his tale is obviously linked to that of his nation and his people in a particularly tumultuous period in Chinese history. His memories are almost transformed into parables, and are a historical reminder that serves as a warning for present-day errors. They range from the mythological story of Prince Wu Zixiu who escapes across the Zhaoguan border, to his personal condemnation as a right-wing element during the Cultural Revolution, to the suicide of a family member. The grandfather seems to be in no hurry, he stops to help anyone in need, listening patiently to any stories they have to tell – it is obvious that it is not the destination that is important in this story, but the metaphorical journey taken. And that, despite the grandchild experiencing the journey as a real adventure, the places they pass through and the people they meet represent the difficulties of existence they have to face and to which they must not succumb, they learn how to maintain a positive attitude even when life gets hard. And at the end of this journey, peppered with realistic but poetic images, not only is the grandson a changed person, but so is the grandfather, who finds the clarity and strength of mind to mend the relationship with his son, which was ruined by his extreme severity during his upbringing. Three generations of the same family – raised in very different historical periods if we consider the enormous changes that have taken place in the last 70 years of Chinese history – begin to communicate and learn from each other’s experiences. The story is helped by a dose of subtle, refined humour making the closing scene of the film particularly memorable.