Under the Light

International Premiere | In Competition


Guest star:
ZHANG Yimou, director


After more than twenty years (the last of his films with an urban setting was 2000’s Happy Times), Zhang Yimou returns to examine contemporary urban society with a film that focuses on one of its most disturbing aspects. Under the Light’s main theme is the corruption that pervades all layers of the public sector, and its ending, where justice appears to inevitably triumph, can’t hide the director’s concern for the state of contemporary Chinese society and its institutions. The film is set in the fictitious city of Jinjiang but was shot in Chongqing, whose spectacular futuristic panoramas provide a better physical representation of the mental labyrinths the Chinese people must navigate in order to survive than any other metropolis in the country. The story tells of the conflict but also the alliance of interests between public institutions, represented by the city’s vice-mayor and the local police, and the world of business. The film begins with an incident in which a man takes the occupants of a bus hostage and threatens to detonate a bomb. The city’s vice-mayor Zheng Gang (who seasoned actor Zhang Guoli plays as a good-natured and seemingly honest man) intervenes personally but the bomb explodes anyway, though not before the attacker has had time to accuse the vice-mayor of unspecified crimes. The vice-mayor’s adopted son Su Jianming (played by Lei Jiaying, an actor who often appears in Zhang Yimou’s films) is the policeman who is tasked with solving the case, but his investigations are hindered by the ambiguous relationships between his father and the president of the most powerful industrial group in the city, who is somehow implicated in the bombing (the role of the cynical Li Zhitian is entrusted to actor Yu Hewei, who convincingly communicates the character’s cruel but refined arrogance and power).

Other minor but crucial characters in the development of the story are the vice-mayor’s wife (sublimely played by Joan Chen, enigmatically portraying the suffering of a betrayed wife), the son’s ex-girlfriend, who is also his colleague (played by eclectic Zhou Dongyu, working for the second time with Zhang Yimou, who gave her her first role in 2010’s Under the Hawthorn Tree) and a mysterious girl with whom the vice-mayor has an apparently paternal relationship. The dynamics between the characters become progressively more complicated, the increasingly complex situations at times making it difficult to follow the story, especially for an international audience that might struggle to read between the lines. Because the version of the film distributed in theatres is the result of a compromise: originally shot in 2019, Under the Light was the subject of long negotiations with the censors because of the way it touched on hot topic issues, and was only finally released in September 2023 in a version which was apparently cut by 30 minutes and which does not do justice to the original story. It in any case won the favour of the public, who rewarded with good ticket sales (1.17 billion rmb) Zhang Yimou’s unmistakable stylistic opulence and the highly convincing performances of an excellent cast, just as in all of this great master’s films.

Maria Barbieri
Film director: ZHANG Yimou
Year: 2023
Running time: 128'
Country: China
01/05 - 2:30 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
01-05-2024 14:30 01-05-2024 16:38Europe/Rome Under the Light Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine cec@cecudine.org