Where are you going? – Zhengfan Yang (2016)

If the film’s title were a question about the direction of the filmmaker, then I would respond to it with “higher and higher”. Where Are You Going? is Zhengfan Yang’s second feature film. His Distant was a true marvel to watch and his second one is even stronger. Visually, it is very different from Distant but narrative-wise I would say it is stronger, cleverly constructed and even though you’re driving through Hong Kong for over two hours, your attention will not wane precisely because Zhengfan uses the frustration principle for the creation of revelatory moments, which make you want to watch more.

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Where Are You Going? is an apt title for a film, which puts you in the seat of a taxi, or a bus, or anything on four wheels that takes you from A to B. The standard first question a taxi driver asks you becomes a metaphor in Zhengfan’s film, though. The film is not only divided into several car journeys across Hong Kong. I found that, more than anything, the question was metaphorical for where the characters (want to) go in their lives. Who are they? Zhengfan doesn’t show them. Sometimes we’re not even sure whether there is someone with us in the car which is travelling through the night or through the busy streets of Hong Kong under the sizzling sun. Their voices are the protagonists. The characters become a face only through their voices, and those voices create not only a personality but an entire life of that personality in front of your eyes. You cannot see the character, but you get to know him/her in an astonishingly detailed way.

Every character has a story to tell but only reveals pain, frustration, anger and sorrow slowly and gradually over the course of a long-take. The viewer gets a glimpse of Hong Kong society through the eyes of people from very different backgrounds and social status. There is the young female banker, who is confronted by her taxi driver over her alleged false promises to her customers that they would make lots of money by investing in risky bonds. He himself was cheated out of 2 million HKD by someone like her, he says. While this could be a straightforward black-and-white story, Zhengfan portrays a banker who pursues the job she doesn’t like only to pay her bills, earning, in effect, less than than the taxi driver and being under persistent pressure by her boss to sell bonds. If she fails to sell a certain amount, she’d get fired.

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We get to know a mainland Chinese couple who wanted to leave the mainland behind in order to search for a better life. A very impressive dialogue between husband and wife, a dialogue that speaks of homesickness and the frustration of discrimination in Hong Kong. While she has enough of trying to get on her feet in the big city (going as far as saying that her “better life” means that she reaches the wall when she stretches her arm out, implying they’re living in a tiny apartment), he is willing to sit this out for another two years, after which they would get a permanent residence permit. She’s dreaming of Canada or Australia; he worries that their parents will consider them a failure if hey returned to mainland China. Pressure from all sides – this is a common theme in pretty much all conversations we hear in the film, be it pressure in family, in society, amongst friends; it’s everywhere.

And while the voices in the background speak of saving money, hating the city, childhood memories, or being set up with a man from mainland China, the images take us through Hong Kong. Zhengfan makes sure to give us as elaborate an image of the city as possible. There’s one chapter, whose name I cannot remember now. I can only remember that it contains the word “corridor” and it was so fitting. A rather narrow motorway leads us through run-down houses, houses in desperate need of repair, houses you wouldn’t want to live in, but which at the same time are most likely the most affordable housing there is in Hong Kong. So while you have the motorway so close to your window that you can almost touch the cars, you have the neighbouring tower just as close. It’s a take that gives you a real feeling of the claustrophobia in the city. At the same time, you see at the horizon all those skyscrapers that we know of Hong Kong; the offices, the expensive apartments, the stuff only rich foreigners can afford.

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Where Are You Going? tells much, much more, and if you’re really attentive, you can see certain connections between the characters. Not all of them are unrelated. Zhengfan has added some connections in there, which makes the entire journey through Hong Kong city, its society and its people even more enriching. The idea of spending over two hours in a car driving through the city is perhaps not very appealing. But the concept is fascinating and riveting in a special way. You see nothing but the streets and other cars, and yet the film is full of humanity, of emotion. You may find this an odd thing to say, but Where Are You Going? is a film which makes you see if you open your ears.

P.S.: Very attentive viewers may find a place where Tsai Ming-liang’s Walker went!

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