Director: zihan geng
Writers: Zihan Geng and Yining Liu
stars: Kay Huang, Jing Liang, Long Liang
Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Xian goes to live with her father while her mother, a doctor, gets a job in Africa. Soon, she is fascinated by her father’s stepdaughter, an arrogant, liberated and slightly melancholic young woman.
The story told by Geng Zihan and screenwriter Yining Liu in A song sung blue it has been seen many times, particularly on the film festival circuit in recent years. And while the variety of tropes and clichés may be annoying to some viewers looking for a different kind of journey, the elegance and naturalistic beauty of Huang Ziqi and Liang Jing’s central performances help make the film quite emotionally engaging.
Youth is a fragile state that serves as a learning pattern for the multiple (and simultaneous) ups and downs of life. Everyone takes it for granted before realizing later that those were some of the most important and melancholic days of his life; Those are the days that shape our lives. At random moments, we catch a glimpse of our past experience and feel a touch of youth flowing through our soul. The directorial debut of young filmmaker Geng Zihan, A song sung blue (premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in the Directors’ Fortnight sidebar) captures this essence beautifully through a story about two girls struggling to find their place in the world. Unfortunately, his film can be placed in the sorting hat of subdued coming-of-age dramas, where one summer (and one special someone) paves the way for teen enlightenment, which make the rounds of festivals throughout the year.
Set in the early 2010s, A song sung blue follows a shy fifteen-year-old girl named Xian who lives in the northeast area of Harbin with her divorced mother (Jing). Xian loves being with her mother, though her teenage angst sometimes gets the best of her. However, things will change, at least for the summer, as her mother has accepted a two-month posting in Africa so that she can give him better opportunities in the future. Because of this, she is sent to live with her father (Liang Long), who runs a struggling photography studio, for a while. She hasn’t seen him since her parents divorced a few years ago. Xian isn’t excited to see him after all this time, and she asks her mother not to go to Africa so she won’t spend the summer alone. From the moment she appears on screen, you get the feeling that Xian’s chemistry with him is not the same as her mother’s.
There is a lot of distance and resentment with Xian, as her father wants to connect with her by all means, even introducing her to his Chinese-Korean partner/assistant (Liu Lianji) and his pet monkey. The first two days are a bit difficult, as the lonely Xian is forced to invite some of her classmates to the photo studio, her father takes advantage of the situation and charges them for group photos. She is not being noticed by them or by her father. So, Xian heads to the back room to take a breather. And that’s when she meets the person who will change her life forever: her father’s stepdaughter, eighteen-year-old Jin Mingmei (Ziqi). Mingmei will be the light that illuminates the path of self-discovery and desire for Xian: she treats her older stepbrother like an idol, a celebrity poster on the wall.
It’s not just Mingmei’s aspirations to open a store and drop out of the flight attendant courses she’s taking that make Xian want to win her affections. But also the glow that she transmits through her daily life illuminates Xian’s previously lonely life; a gray-toned room fills with color the moment she arrives. Geng Zihan delves into coming-of-age tropes and clichés through these sisters’ newly formed relationship, featuring some scenes reminiscent of other (and better) movies. We’ve seen this kind of dynamic hundreds of times that it’s a magnet for these movies because people relate to them. I think the movie relies so much on the relatability factor that it fails to expand its story into something of heavier narrative weight.
A song sung blue it may have a style reminiscent of Wong Kar-wai and a blue-toned filter that covers the screen with a blurry lens, shot by a cinematographer (HJY) looking for the more grounded side in every frame. But that constant pressure to make the public feel that they have gone through these same or similar situations slows them down. Yet at the same time, this very relationship, which is mostly wrought by tropes, comes through with nuance and beauty, primarily through the moving performances of Huang Ziqi and Liang Jing. An easily identifiable contrast between the two characters, the introverted Mingmei and the extroverted Xian, adolescent angst versus youthful bliss, makes for some of the narrative beats emotionally compelling. Confusing emotions is a crucial aspect of growing up, and Geng Zihan guides these actresses to the point where they effortlessly reflect this feeling.
The rest of the cast doesn’t leave much of an impression as the story revolves around the two leads for the most part. But there are some scenes between Xian and her mother that are quite touching, yet recognizable. Zihan’s filmmaking skills are admirable, often showing that her problems with her directorial debut are mostly contained in her script and narrative development. While A song sung blue it has its fair share of beautiful scenes, the lingering feeling of having been there that haunts the film for its brooding ninety-two minute run.