The relationship between life and art is the central theme of the debut film by Tian Ye, a Chinese director who, having lived in North America for a number of years, manages to deal with a universal issue with a sensitivity that is equally suited to Chinese and Western audiences. But the film specifically deals with subjects related to life in contemporary China, such as the phenomenon of migration to urban centers, the social alienation suffered by these migrants, and the increasingly acute economic gap between rich and poor. The film is based on a play by the famous contemporary poet and playwright Zou Jingzhi, with Tian Zhuangzhuang as executive producer; the latter is one of the most illustrious representatives of the so-called Fifth Generation of Chinese filmmakers, traditionally linked to socially committed cinema, and he has left a clear stamp on the film.
The story revolves around Xiao Qiang, a young immigrant in Beijing who works as an errand boy; he lives in the suburbs, in a shared apartment. He has artistic talent and spends his free time drawing. He lacks work ambition, is content to spend his days making deliveries on his Apetta, and agreeing without protest to the blind date that his father organises for him. He seems unhappy but resigned to his fate. His housemate, on the other hand, is completely different: Xiao Xia is pretty and ambitious, she too is an immigrant but one who looks out for any opportunity to climb the social ladder. She works in a real estate agency that sells luxury apartments; despite living in the squalor of the suburbs, she is always well dressed and has her own car. Her working environment is very competitive because the agents work on commission, and the economic well-being of the clients triggers rivalry and envy amongst the agency employees, forced to endure humiliation and even sexual aggression by the customers. Xiao Xia has a specific goal: to be able to buy an apartment for herself, or find a partner to help her do so. Xia’s life runs parallel to Qiang’s; they are both very lonely and almost lost in the big city that neither feels part of, but she is so absorbed by her dreams and by an unrequited love that she doesn’t even notice Qiang exists, even though the two share a house and see each other on a daily basis. Qiang is in love with Xia. Fully aware of her indifference, he doesn’t dare tell her how he feels, even if he is there for her in both the practical sense and whenever she feels down.
One day Qiang finds himself making a delivery in a theatre where the rehearsals of a play are underway – When Love Blossoms
, the very play the film is based upon. In the play, an errand boy is making a delivery to a woman who is about to kill herself because of a love affair gone wrong. What he sees on stage strikes him to his very core, and Qiang finds excuses to return almost every day to watch the rehearsals, learning the play by heart, and obviously recognising the parallels with his own situation. On the day of the premiere, the actor playing the errand boy has an accident and the director asks Qiang to replace him... The film gradually constructs the relationship between theatrical fiction and real life; desires, dreams and frustrations are mediated and enlightened by art, but not resolved. The destiny of the two main characters is not revealed. But the sensitivity and delicacy of the director in telling this tale of loneliness and hopelessness, along with the extremely convincing interpretations of the two main actors makes up for the lack of narrative resolution which, all things considered, reflects real life.