Getting its big-screen release during the boom period of the Chinese New Year – further proof of the popularity of Han Han – the third film by the writer, blogger, rally driver and director once considered the voice of the Chinese millennials is a far less pungent piece of work but even more personal than his previous two releases, because it revolves firmly around his passion for driving racing cars. Han Han not only wrote and directed the film, but also participated as a stuntman for the action scenes in the rally that is at the centre of the story. The protagonist of the film is Zhang Chi, a driver who, after winning the most prestigious Chinese rally in the Bayanbulak desert in Xinjiang five times, has been banned from racing, losing his license for five years because of an illegal race held in a multi-storey parking lot. Zhang Chi dreams of getting back on the racetrack and winning a place on the podium to show his son, his rivals, his detractors and especially himself that he really does have “the art of driving” down to pat, and that winning is not just a question of technical skill but one of passion and a blind devotion to the sport. His main rival, though, not only has technical ability but also a lot of money. Lin Zhendong is the typical millennial son of a wealthy father who wants to prove he can win because he is good and not because he is rich. To the point that he is even willing to help Zhang Chi when his car is damaged during shipment from Shanghai to Xinjiang.
The main star is Teng Shen, an actor with a facial expressiveness similar to that of Xu Zhen; he has achieved great popularity in recent years in highly comic roles and played a similar character in the film Goodbye Mr. Loser. The film totalled CNY 1.7 billion at the box office, far exceeding the director’s previous two outings. Some of the film’s scenes, such as Zhang Chi’s car assembly, are shot as if they were elegant commercials, while the sequences of the race, taking place on spectacular and terrifying terrain, are breathtaking. But unlike the adrenaline-fuelled race scene, it is the first part of the film that gives it its identity as a bitter-sweet comedy, a story of redemption rather than of sport: the scenes of Zhang Chi who has to lower himself to take driving lessons to get his license back, of his former co-pilot forced to take on work as an animated stuffed toy at a funfair, of their mechanic who is a genius but works as a labourer all point towards a humanistic film. The theme of the relationship between fathers and sons is evidently very much felt by Han Han: as in his previous Duckweed, Pegasus also features the figure of a father who wants to prove to his son that he is not a loser – in this case a newborn child that had been left on Zhang Chi’s car, alluding to his not recognising being the father of the child, something that is proven false by DNA testing. A sport like racing is emblematic of the new Chinese economy; Zhang Chi and his team are desperate dreamers who have to beg for donations and loans to get a car, while Lin Zhendong not only has the means to participate in the race without problems, but with his entrepreneurial family also destroys the romantic side of life: Zhang Chi’s house is modest but has a magical view of the city of Shanghai, but Lin’s family are about to construct a series of skyscrapers that will obscure this view. The race between Zhang Chi and Lin Zhendong is a “class war” in every sense of the term.