Red Awn

Red Awn


Reviewed by: George Williamson

Old Soong has returned to the family farm after five years in the city seeking his fortune; while he was away his wife died, and his teenage son declared him legally deceased. In the eyes of the law he can be resurrected with a simple chit, but will he be dead to his son forever?

The Red Awn is a film about transitions - between country and city, old and young, man and boy. Soong has returned from the provincial capital to try and make amends for leaving his family. He tries to continue the farmer's life that he deserted years ago, but labouring as a construction worker has destroyed his back. His son, Yongtao, has an able body, but his mind is still seething with hatred for the father who didn't even return for his mother's funeral - he's an angry teenager refusing to consign himself to a life of hardship. But it's harvest time; they need to leave the village and seek employment as farmhands, using the family combine harvester to work others' fields. Through the grueling work in the fields they are slowly able to reconnect and, through the fields of waving crops, they begin to understand one another.

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Cai Shanjun's directorial debut is a coming of age story set against a backdrop of rural Chinese poverty, a land that's been abandoned for the financial promise of the cities. While the story of Soong and Yongtao follows their slow reconciliation, it also shows that the perennial search for the greener grass is as futile as ever. More importantly it highlights the problems facing inland China today as millions of peasant farmers leave their small-holdings to seek better paid employment in towns, often returning penniless or fleeing a life of exploitation. It's a dismal outlook, and the film is rather pessimistic. Soong's vitality has been drained by the city. Yongtao appears to be doomed to repeat his father's mistakes - after hopefully enrolling in college he slides into a manual labouring job and debt. A young woman who's fled a career of prostitution in the city can't escape its unpleasant social stigma even in her home village. A victim of human trafficking has been separated from her children and doesn't know if she'll ever be able to face them again. Even the sense of fulfillment earned by a good day's work is sullied by pitiful wages paid - this isn't a story of bucolic utopia, but the hard agricultural grind that faces billions every day.

While the events unfolding sound rather depressing, the film remains compelling; it's beautifully shot against the rolling fields of golden wheat and is punctuated with memorable stills juxtaposing modern farm machinery with the crumbling ruins of the forts of ancestors. Yao Anlian excels as the world-weary Soong and Lu Yulai brings a suitable gaunt malevolence to Yongtao, making the tension between them ever present.

The Red Awn's bleakly realistic representation of peasant life won't appeal to everyone, but hardy fans of contemporary Chinese cinema will love it.

Reviewed on: 20 Jun 2008
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A father and son attempt to repair a relationship damaged by the former's absence.

Director: Cai Shangjun

Writer: Cai Xiang Jun

Starring: Yao Anlian, Lu Yulai, Lu Huang, Shi Junhui

Year: 2007

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: China


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