Youth Meets Film: Issue 3, 2014
9 December 2014
Last Trip Home & the Combative Authenticity of Modern Nomadism
It’s odd to associate Last Trip Home with a director as enigmatic as Han Fengyu. The film itself is filled with abstract, long takes of repetitive motion; yet as a person Han is terse and hardly stands for fluff.
I learnt this the hard way as our brief email correspondence turned into a light interrogation turned upside down. When asking whether the narrative was a story based on his own experiences, he had this to say:
“Is this necessary? So are all films a fantasy, a lie and fake? [sic] So if I had made a fantastical film about a giant pencil killing a dinosaur, does it come from my experience? Is it personal? Or does it matter if it’s personal, or not? Or rather, can you give me an example of a film not representing a director’s point of view?”
While there certainly remains much to be debated upon in his response, one fact we can glean is that this guy is convicted. While his blithe demeanor might come across as curt – and producer Adar Ng is quick to note “he doesn’t mean to offend anyone” – it illustrates a refreshing voice of vehemence in an age where it seems studios have more say over the artistic direction of films than the creators themselves.
Indeed, the quality of steadfastness is one particular trait we see well translated in Han’s SGIFF entry, Last Trip Home. Though telling the story of a father-son duo struck by financial ruin – rather familiar territory within the local filmmaking context – the film avoids the pitfalls of stereotype in addressing destitution and shambolic living. Rather, it provides a touching character exposition navigating the many intimate and intricate quirks unique to this parent-child relationship.
There is great conflict in the film, resistance beset by love. Han outrightly categorises it as not being a film “about family, [but] … about love”. In the rare instance the son, a thoughtfully quiet performance by first-time actor, Zhang Zheng Yang, indulges himself in a daydream – usually he is counterpoint to his father’s (Huang He) arbitrary and ill-thought whims – he cradles his father’s head, tenderly waxing lyrical about an ideal, idyll life they might have in the Chinese countryside.
It appears the film was crafted based on accommodating his actors’ personal quirks and synthesizing them with a pre-existing narrative. Han serves up a pithy response to my question regarding the many long, silent takes in the film:
“My main actor, Zhengyang, is a very quiet person. So I do not feel that there is a need for much dialogue in the film.”
A veritable accommodation that pays off well. The result is showing, and hardly ever resorting to telling. Though Han occasionally heeds the seductive calls of self-indulgence with takes that last a little longer than required to establish the scene, a suitable tonality of ennui is communicated and compensated for in the beautiful cinematography and colour palette from the keen eye of Director of Photography Lee Sze Wei. Elsewhere, there is an outpouring of unspoken love that seems to unconsciously yet meaningfully espouse the involuntarily nomadic life they lead: scrubbing each other with the same sponges they use to clean their car, decorating an alleyway with found Christmas lights and embracing it fully as their home.
It’s clearly a film that demonstrates toughness – perhaps subliminally so. Producer Adar Ng discussed the hurdles afflicting this final year project, and the answer seems a shock: the very school that commissioned the project. Many a tussle was had with their school, Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s School of Film, Sound and Video, with regard to their untraditionally-structured film, seen as an anomaly within their preference of the conventional 3-arc plot. Despite these troubles, the filmmakers, like the family in Home, push through with love for their final product. The result is a brilliantly shot character study with a whole lot of heart.
Though I had hoped to provide a perspective of the filmmaker on the many narrative symbols within the film – it does become rather open-ended – they remain fiercely protective of the audience’s personal interpretation of the film. “Every action and shot was deliberately planned,” producer Adar mentions, “But we want the audience to think about it in their own way.” Honourable intentions which I shall wholly respect. It’s a film rightfully deserving of its place here in competition in the SGIFF Shorts.