So Long, My Son (2019) Poster

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Subtle and moving
FrenchEddieFelson8 August 2019
An immense emotional masterpiece with intellectual vibrations which invites the audience, through the crossed gaze of several Chinese families, to question the universality of the feeling of filiation and the meaning of existence. A magisterial and bitter melodrama. 7/8 of 10.
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Successful undertaking to show three decades of life within a Chinese rural environment, covering all ups and downs that can befall an average family
JvH481 March 2019
Saw this at the Berlinale 2019, where it was part of the official Competition. Two prizes were awarded: Silver Bear for Best Actor (Wang Jingchun) and one Silver Bear for Best Actress (Yong Mei). Apart from the acting, it was very interesting to see China transform in thirty years time, albeit that we see only a rural part of China, far away from the big city centers, thus avoiding large scale business and touristic areas.

Showing China while undergoing a drastic change, is one of the main themes of this movie, if not the main one. From a side line we get to see the transformation in progress, going from a communist country towards modern (semi?) capitalism. Factories, workplaces and houses the people work and live in, seem carefully designed to be true to the reality of the times at hand, thereby demonstrating an admirable attention for details.

A perfect example was the factory closure. The gathering with the workers was very illustrative. It showed that such things went in communist times exactly as how it goes nowadays. The workers assembled can protest and find that the director must be sent away. The harsh reality was (of course) in communist times exactly as in our capitalist times. Jobloss overcomes the humble workers, as if it was a natural disaster. There is nothing they can do about it, regardless of all being called "comrades". Neither can help be found in communist textbooks and the principles of "worker's self management".

On the other hand, regarding the implicit second theme, the family related stories of the protagonists, the developments were difficult to follow for me. This was partly due to some unnecessary time jumps and flash backs, partly caused by not telling who-is-who when a new protagonist appears, partly because of me being unable to tell Chinese people apart. Though the story starts with a fatal drowning accident, the people involved will re-unite in the end and will live happily ever after, even when the real truth comes out thirty years later, and even after someone admits having played a dark role in the accident.

It is no problem to sit out the three hours this movie lasts, though not really involving on a human level. And it was certainly not moving or heart-breaking as per what other reviewers wrote. The ground cause for this psychological distance is (see above) the difficulties I had to follow the persons involved, besides the fact that their logic was failing on me a few times.

All in all, I was glad to have seen this movie, regardless of my problems with following the various personal story lines and their interwoven connections. The nearly three hours are easy to sit through, so no problem there. And the ending was a surprise (no details, no spoilers), particularly because it did not cause a hard break in relationships, despite there would have been ample reason for a break-up after admitting a few 30-year-old lies.
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Divine actors and heartbroken scenario
aydarnicolas12 July 2019
What an incredible and sensitive portrait of the richest and the most powerful country in the world. Very long but you should stay (I talk to europeans, I know US don't like long and foreign language) because the last hour is something I've never seen yet : you'll cry so much, it's so pure, delicate, deeply sad. The last image will stay forever in my head. The actors are amazing and I'm glad they won a price at Berlin Film Festival.
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A dreamy observation of a changing nation
liuruiorp1 December 2019
In very many ways this film is almost a reboot of Zhang Yimou's film To Live, from 1994, which tells the many trials and tribulations of a family from the founding of the People's Republic in 1949 to the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976. So Long My Son picks up that chronological baton, and tells a story about family bonds, the meaning of friendship and what constitutes our morals and ethics through the last 30/40 years of Chinese history, from a stilted, materially basic time of 1980 through to the hypermodernity of China in the 2010s.

In the same way To Live aimed thinly disguised critiques at the Chinese government's policies through showing its impact on ordinary people, So Long My Son fires a number of shots too and it's in fact a little surprising to me some of these have been overlooked by the censors. The most obvious of them is the criticism of the one child policy, but hidden in there too are mentions of the privatisation of state owned industries in the early 90s and the mass redundancies that went with them, as well as criticism of the wealth inequality of modern China that has ensued from the market economy transition of the 80s and 90s.

I'm unsure if this was a problem specific to the release version I saw, though I have seen other reviews saying the plot was hard to follow, but I noticed that the English subtitles was often only translating about 1/5 of the dialogue in Mandarin. As a speaker of both, I followed the plot and characters quite easily, but can absolutely understand why many reviewers and comments have said they found the characters and plots hard to distinguish if the subtitling was a problem. However, with one eye on the subtitles, I think the fact they were missing a lot of the Mandarin dialogue would have created a really dreamy plotline that complements well the cinematographic style deployed - long panoramic shots that suddenly cut into a character's perspective; languid sequences that soak in the environment; and shots designed to make the audience feel voyeurs in a private situation.
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Recommended - if very long
euroGary20 October 2019
Chinese film 'So Long, my Son' opens with Yaoyun and Liyun, a couple in an industralised town during the 1980s, suffering a great personal tragedy. Some years later they have left their hometown and are living with their son in a port. Some years later still and they are returning for the first time to their hometown in order to see a dying friend. The gaps in-between are filled in by multiple flashbacks, during which we see the human costs of China's environmentally-sensible one-child policy; how the authorities attempt to crush personal expression; and the ramifications of Yaoyun and Liyun's tragedy.

All these flashbacks are difficult to keep track of, especially as they are not in chronological order. So from that aspect this is a film that would probably reward repeated viewing. Certainly I would be happy to see it again; as played by Jingchun Wang and Mei Yong, respectively, Yaoyun and Liyun are a likeable couple. Their circle of friends may be less well-developed, consisting of stock characters such as the fun-loving party girl, the free spirit and the blindly-loyal Party functionary, but they all add colour to the story. I also enjoyed the depiction of China's transformation and development over the two decades covered by the film.

I saw this in the cinema during the 2019 London Film Festival. While I certainly recommend it, I suggest waiting until you can watch it in your own home: at three hours long you will want to be as comfortable as you possibly can be!
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The perfect sequel to "Lifetimes" (1994)
frankde-jong14 August 2019
This years we are witnissing something of a "Chinese new wave". "So long my son" was already the third Chinese film I saw this year (after "An elephant sitting still" (2018, Bo Hu) and "Long day's journey into night" (2018, Gan Bi)).

"So long my son" is the perfect sequel to "Lifetimes" (1994, Zhang Yimou). "Lifetimes" covers de period 1940 - 1970 in Chinese history and "So long my son" the period 1980 up till now. In "Lifetimes" the culrurel revolution is the most defining event, in "So long my son" it is the one child policy.

In "Lifetimes" the story is told in chronological order. "So long my son" jumps back and forth in time. Together with the many characters "So long my son" asks from his viewers that they keep paying attention. The one who does so is richly rewarded for this. Moreover the peculiar chronological order is in my opinion less artificial than in for example "Memento" (2000, Christoher Nolan). Some events in the film have such an emotional "gravity" that it is just natural that they disrupt the normal chronological order.

"So long my son" is in some ways critical to Chinese society. Apart from the one child policy and the damage it has done it shows the growing gap between rich and poor. The critisism mainly concerns however policies started by Deng Xiaoping. The widening of the distance between rich and poor is after all an indirect consequence of the open door policy (mixed state ruled and market economy) that was introduced in 1978.

"So long my son" says nothing about the surveillance state that Xi Jinping is building at the moment. Long it was thought that a more market oriented economy would lead by itself to a more liberal political system. This did not happen, and one can call that "The Chinese paradox". Now we have a smaller "Chinese paradox" in the movie industry, where the surveillance state does not preclude the already mentioned Chinese new wave.
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How beautiful
aligittiomg31 January 2020
What a beautiful story about what it means to be a parent in this world and how we are all connected.

The story is told by jumping back and forth in time, a flow of scenes giving the viewer a glimpse of the changes in the life of a couple who lost their son and how they try to move on with this loss. Although they abondon old friends after the incident a connection remains and in the end the lives of this group of people comes full circle.

This film brings the message of everyone being connected to another and the importance to sincerely care about others to the screen in such a wonderful way with an incredible cast. The three hours felt so short but something still remains, just like in life when one is touched by the goodness of others.

Highly recommend this movie.
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Perhaps a little too long but worth watching
lukechong27 January 2020
This movie is at least half an hour too long; at 3 hours long, "So Long, My Son" can surely be edited down to a more palatable running time. But the editor cannot be blamed, since Wang Xiaoshuai often does long takes in this film. The chronology can be a little disorientating, because it is often non-linear, but pay attention to the make-up and the hairdo, and one can tell when each event is happening. Both lead actor and lead actress are excellent, and this movie packs a strong emotional punch at the end. I believe this is as far as China's cultural Nazis (the censors) can accept before issuing out their bans and cutting the film; Wang Xiaoshuai gets out of it by shifting the blame to an individual for the wife's abortion, but everyone with a thinking mind will know it's really the one-child policy at fault.

In short, an excellent movie, by a veteran Chinese director who is often neglected compared to Jia Zhangke, Lu Chuan and the latest cohorts out of the Beijing Academy. A serious, solid, affecting drama. it deserves a larger international audience. Recommended for lovers of world cinema who do not have attention deficit disorder.
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Good epic chinese drama
adecio31 October 2019
A lot of people was recommended this title for me to see in the Sao Paulo International Festival. I gave an opportunity and I think is really good epic drama about a family over the years in China. I had some problems in the middle of the story, but I could recover my interest on this when the characters were getting more layers. In some parts, I was very emotional.
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An overlong and chaotic period drama
TheBigSick16 March 2019
Wang Xiaoshuai is clearly a narcissist and just puts every shot into the film. If you cannot sleep well and really need some sleep, you are encouraged to see the film. It can cure the worst insomnia. The nonlinear structure is just a joke. If you put the key scenes in the beginning, every suspense would be eliminated. The editing is a mess. The film is simply unwatchable. I'm sure you would want to leave before it ends. Thematically, it is quite confusing too. It could have been a sharp and dark period drama just like Zhang Yimou's To Live.
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An alternative director's cut would had made the difference
JustAManWithoutFace29 September 2019
"So long, my son" is a window to the pain of a marriage associated with an insurmountable loss. The storytelling is simply excellent. It has an important human component, political criticism and that without going into undue sentimentalities, which makes it easy to empathize with the tragedy that is narrated here. Although retaking the simile that I made of the window that allows us to interfere in the conjugal life of the protagonists, if it filters too much light, in the end, it is blinding. And this is where the movie errs. The three-hour duration seems excessive for a story that in 30 minutes less could have been developed. As interesting as the movie is, in the screening I could observe the public stirring in the seats about the last stage waiting for an end that was resisting to arrive. Perhaps it had something to do with that the resource that Chinese cinema has recently made to the silence as a form of dialogue to emphasize the human feeling. See in this sense the disproportionate recourse to this figure that makes "An Elephant Sitting Still" by Hu Bo wherein the performance of the characters, long lapses of time pass in silence. Although the use of this figure is not so frequent here, I found that some scenes could work the same without having the characters long scenes looking at nothing. This could help to achieve that time cut that had would make the film more liveable. Despite the foregoing, this movie is very worth watching. I can only have good words about the composition of the image and the acting.
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Best for the art direction and historical reconstructions
woutervandersluis13 September 2019
I saw this movie in a Cathaypacific 11 hour flight so three hours was not too long to fill the time. I took a interval for a nap. I was fascinated by the 30 years of historical reconstructions of Chinese streets, work places, restaurants and apartments. Full of details and extras in the scenes. The story was good but could have been clearer in depicting the changes in the lives of the many figures in the movie changes due to the historical changes. Most difficult was the main plot especially cause I could not figure out which son was who and even how many sons there were or have been. Even by looking back some scenes I could not figure this out.
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Terribly scripted and edited lousy movie
LogicIsEverything12 December 2019
I've retracted my old review and have to reduce the score to the lowest 1 star rating, because the screenplay was so messy, and the editing was one of the worst! So many flashbacks mixed up with confusing present, jumping around with lot of avoidance and omits. Characters were randomly appeared or out of the picture without appropriate explanation, they just appeared so abruptly, then suddenly appeared in the flashbacks of the past, often made us feel clueless. Links between or among the characters were so vague and confusing. The reasons why this couple moved around from one place to another didn't seem rightly justified, since during those years, the Chinese Communist Party would not allow people freely moved around in China as they wish, and the reasons why they kept moving were so ridiculous since they were neither criminals, nor involved in some shameful scandals. This is such a ridiculously and illogically scripted movie and poorly directed, but the worst part was the poorest editing, so confusing that made the movie constantly in a clueless situation. What a lousy movie. We were fooled by those high praises about this movie, and never thought a movie could be this bad.
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A quite messy movie resulted by a randomly scripted screenplay and
Bad-Good-Great13 February 2020
An indulgent director. The only decent part was the two leading characters as husband and wife. The continued and sudden flashbacks to and fro sometimes even quite confusing, they needed the viewers trying so hard to patch them together and self-realization by themselves, otherwise, the messy hurdles of the scenes might cause some viewing headaches. Some of the scenes and settings were either too long and pointless. The make-up did a great job, showing how this miserable couple had been suffered during such a long period of time under the ironclad of a dictatorship government, but the director only used the wife suffered a forced abortion by the Chinese Communist government and their immediate commissar to show us how the Chinese peoples' lives were so pathetically messed up by the ridiculous Communist laws.

This is a very sad movie to show how the couple suffered the injustice quietly during those chaotic era. Everybody's life was wasted without any probable cause. When their lives finally and gradually changed better, all the sufferings were just water under the bridge.
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Touching family story with lots of drama and tragedy
Horst_In_Translation27 November 2019
Warning: Spoilers
"Di jiu tian chang" is a Chinese movie also in the Chinese language from 2019. This one was directed by Xiaoshuai Wang and he is also one of the two writers here. He has worked for a quarter of a century already in the Chinese film industry, but this award-winning film here is maybe the one that also makes him famous internationally and I am curious if he is going to direct a Hollywood film at some point. Anyway, this is a really really long film at over 3 hours and actually this is the second Chinese 2019 film i have seen I believe and the second with such a massive runtime, so it is not completely unusual I guess for films from this country these days. It has turned into quite a success with awards bodies already, so it surprises me a bit that China did not pick it to represent the country at the Oscars this year. Maybe the reason is that it is at least partially critical when it comes to how it depicts China and its politics and traditions. I am talking about the one-child policy here specifically, but I'll get to that later in detail. The one thing that is always really a big factor in Chinese films is the subject of family and here it is really the defining aspect. We have two families and their kids are born the very same day and they are friends and one character says during a birthday party that they will be friends for life. It is a pretty memorable quote in my opinion. Well, he was partially right because tragedy strikes and one boy is killed and the other is not completely innocent of what happens and at the very end there is this confession scene. However, the other boy's parents do not bear a grudge because they were just children and that was actually the way I expected them to react. Also if we look at the very end, it was a bit surprising to me really how the mother of the dead boy for the first time looks relatively healthy and in peace with everybody and everything around her because she has been suffering a lot. And it is also a bit ironic because the other mother, the one who died from brain cancer, always seemed to be the healthier one. But that is just one little snippet that came to my mind.

Now you see I am already avoiding the actors' names because unsurprisingly I do not know any of them. But that is okay. Maybe you do if you are from China because they were all pretty good and I am sure some of them acted in a lot before this one here. I want to mention the one though who played the father of the deceased son because he was really really good through the entire film and maybe the best thing about the entire production. And just on a side-note, Xi Qi is really stunning. But that is just me maybe. Another thing I recognized was how they used several American songs at times or well i could say Chinese songs based on American melodies because Auld Lang Syne you will here in this one on several occasions. And also the film reminded me how much I like the song "Rivers of Babylon". In general, I felt the soundtrack was nice, also the score. One thing I did not like too much was that it was not chronological, but maybe that is just me. Here and there I struggled a bit with recognizing which time we are right now again. The looks of the characters did not always help. And I would like to say that, even if it is a major factor at the very end again, the film did not feel that much about two families as you could guess from the plot description here. The couple who lost their son is clearly in the center of it all and we actually do not find out too much about the other family compared to the one at the center. I mean okay they are their son's parents-in-law as we find out at the end and they were obviously really close friends, but still. The ending was also slightly too happy maybe with the other boy calling them out of nowhere again. But the last shot and the scene with the two at their son's grave was better again. I did like that one. So yeah I just mentioned the other boy. This is actually how the film starts with us seeing him with his "parents" and the "s are there because we find out quickly afterwards that he is adopted. Which may or may not explain the struggles they have with him because he really seems to be a rebel and even when his mother (the more pacific one) brings cookies to him and his friends and talks to him, there is no chance for them really making up again. So his call at the end surprised me. But also it was not the most loving statement when the dad told him that basically he was nothing but a proxy for their deceased son. Anyway, I somehow felt this film would be more about the adopted boy, but he quickly vanishes until the end then.

So as you can see from my description already, the father is not really a saint either. He has a one-night stand with his female, much younger protégé and the result is that she gets pregnant, but does not want to have the child, so she offers him that he can have it. Of course, he would have had to tell his wife about what happened and while they were really longing for a child, i still found it fairly absurd I must say to even consider this idea because the poor woman would have to look the rest of her life at somebody who is the evidence of her husband cheating on her. But it shows still what big of a role kids played back then in China and at least partially still do today. However, this scene also shows that he is a loving husband that he does not even consider the idea of telling his wife with how much she struggles anyway already, in terms of health and everything else. And at the end, it was really interesting to watch him how curious/anxious he is when he finds out that she may (or may not) have kept the child. I won't tell you the outcome. Back to the subject of pregnancies, this one is really important here too and I already mentioned China's one-child policy that was intended to prevent further overpopulation during the time when this film plays. There is no exception if your child dies either, which I did not know. When the woman gets pregnant already, she is forced to have an abortion and it is pretty ironic to watch the ceremony later on during which the two are honored as a role model example of China's one-child policy. This was maybe a bit over-the-top this scene, even if their fake forced smiles stay in the head with what happened to them before that. So now you know this film spans over several decades (no surprise given the running time) and it is also the small details (like mobile phones being used near the end) that makes this an interesting watch. In general, this film has nice attention to detail. Competent execution by everybody involved from beginning to end. The truly great moments were maybe slightly too scarce for me for a really enthusiastic recommendation and including this one in my 2019 favorites, but there is no hesitation for me in giving this one a thumbs-up. Go watch it if you have the steadiness for over three hours, especially if you like Asian films. We normally get a lot more from Japan than China, but if the quality is like in this one here, it would be nice if that changed at some point. The audience seems to be interested enough because my vieweing was really full which surprised me a lot. That's all.
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