Reviewed by: David Stanners

A young student couple, Si-xu (Geng Le) and Xiaoping (Chang Jieping) are hot on the trail of a rare species of mushroom, which they hope to cultivate and sell for a fortune. Together they make their way across central China, hitching rides on trains, trucks and boats before arriving in the town of Wuhan, where they have been tipped to make their deal.

Warned by a boatman they are being cheated, upon arrival their fears are crystallized. The sellers, whom they intended to meet, have been arrested. Short of money and clutching at straws, they go to a nearby biotechnology laboratory and haggle with a woman, who reluctantly sells them a mushroom kit.

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When they get home, their hopes are again shattered when they find they have been sold fake seeds. On top of this, Si-xu's parents are angry with him, demanding answers to his recent whereabouts and future plans, while Xiaoping has to deal with a nervous mother and an abusive brother, who appears to rule the house.

Deciding to go back to Wuhan to complain, they are surprised to get a refund on the mushrooms. Electing to move south for work, their travels take on a new dimension, as they realise their life goals have shifted dramatically. For Si-xu the journey will be no more than a financial interlude before resuming his studies, but for the quixotic Xiaoping, it is not a means to an end, but to something far more open-ended.

The main thrust of Passages is its focus on the sense of confusion and displacement felt amongst China's young. The precarious dichotomy between the traditional virtues of education and honest employment, pitted against the burgeoning fast buck culture, is a prevalent theme among Chinese new wave directors. Li Yang's Blind Shaft, shown in last year's EIFF, underlined similar themes of corruption and greed amongst China's ever changing attitude to commerce.

There is a definite sense of despondency and alienation in Yang Chao's work. A wonderfully eerie musical score accompanies the two youngsters as they pound miles of wet roads for hours on end, experiencing nothing but uncertainty at every turn. Also, Si-xu and Xiaoping seem bizarrely unemotional and esoteric. The further they walk, the further they drift apart, eventually becoming completely estranged from each other.

The pace is slow, and at times lethargic. This is a deliberate device used to convey the characters' feelings, but you will need patience. There is an awful lot of the same here.

Still, it is a worthy effort, highlighting the contradictions inherent in a communist society with the world's fastest growing economy.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2004
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A young couple, disillusioned with student life, take off on a search for special mushrooms that could land them a fortune.

Director: Yang Chao

Writer: Yang Chao

Starring: Geng Le, Chang Jieping

Year: 2004

Runtime: 112 minutes

Country: China


EIFF 2004

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Blind Shaft
Lost In Beijing