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(“Today My Mother Will Get Married” will be screening at the 2014 Chinese Visual Festival on May 13th at King’s College London.)
Jin Ye’s “Today My Mother Will Get Married” is a Chinese independent fiction following a young boy called Cao Zi who lives with his mother in a small rural town in Manchuria. One day, he finds out that his mother is due to marry the rich local businessman Zhu Laosan, and decides to buy her a necklace to prove that he loves her more. Not having any money himself, Cao Zi teams with his friends Jiu Yi and Brother Hou for a scheme to steal goods from Zhu Laosan’s factory and sell them back to him, a plan which sadly fails. After more aborted attempts to raise the necessary funds, including the theft of a French horn and an attack on a taxi driver, Cao Zi joins forces with Zhu Laosan’s daughter Zhu Xia to try and stop the wedding, though their efforts soon land them in even more trouble.
“Today My Mother Will Get Married” is Jin Ye’s first feature, and while perhaps raw and rough in places, it’s a highly impressive accomplishment and is exactly the kind of indie cinema that Chinese filmmakers should be making more of. Though shot in only sixteen days, Jin edited the film for two years, and it’s obvious that a great deal of craftsmanship and thought went into its making, as it’s a tightly structured and edited work which succeeds both artistically and in narrative terms. Visually, it’s bleakly stunning throughout, a mixture of carefully constructed long shots and vérité camerawork making evocative use of the wintry local scenery and the ramshackle buildings of the town.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given his background, the film has a naturalistic and down to earth feel, which works well to underline its gritty setting and to turn what could have been a fairly generic tale of wayward youth into something deeper and more affecting. Tough and occasionally violent, and featuring several suspenseful twists and turns, the film is also a great piece of storytelling, and thanks in part to some great and wholly believable performances from its young cast, is gripping throughout. Despite his many misdeeds and destructive behaviour, Cao Zi is a sympathetic protagonist, and it’s hard not to root for him as he and his friends go about their misguided schemes, even though a happy ending never really seems to be in the cards.
Where the film particularly impresses is in the way it combines its strong narrative and characters with social concerns, making it searching as well as dramatic and tense, Jia asking tough questions about modern Chinese and the fate of the new generation. Though the film is unmistakably culturally Chinese and has a very strong sense of place, Jin shows a great understanding of cinema and of what makes films work, and the story is one which viewers from anywhere should be able to recognise and relate to. It’s arguably this which really lifts “Today My Mother Will Get Married” and sets it apart from many other Chinese indies, as though artistic and worthy, it’s also on a more basic (though no less important) level very entertaining and enjoyable.