English Title: Feng Shui
Original Title: Wan jian chuan xin 万箭穿心
Director: Wang Jing 王竞
Screenwriter: Wu Nan 吴楠
based on the eponymous novel of Fang Fang 方方
Music: Yang Sili 杨思力
Cinematography: Liu Younian 刘又年
Yan Bingyan 颜丙燕
Jiao Gang 焦刚
He Minglan 何明兰
Chen Gang 陈刚
Li Xian 李现
Zhao Qian 赵倩
Wang Moxi 王沫溪
Wang Tiange 王天戈
Yang Mingqiu 杨鸣秋
Chinese filmmaker Wang Jing has cut his teeth in delineating contemporary lives of mostly ordinary folks ever since his debut LIFE WITH NOODLES (1997), his eighth feature FENG SHUI has been possibly his most well-known and well-received work to date, taking place in Wuhan, the capital of Hubei Province in the Central China, the story begins in the 90s, and pivot around an ordinary nuclear family, Li Baoli (Yan Bingyan), a hosiery vendor in Henzheng Street, a popular local retail center, is married to Ma Xuewu (Jiao Gang), an office directer in a state-owned factory, and they have a school-age son Xiaobao (Wang Tiange).
It is a celebratory day as it seems, the family is moving to a new apartment allotted to them by Ma’s factory, it is on the 13th floor of a council estate, but this doesn’t augur well, Baoli’s propensity of penny-pinching and Bolshy aggressiveness is in blatant discordance with Xuewu’s henpecked reaction, and on that very night, after some deliberation, he propounds divorce for the first time and it throws Baoli for a loop.
Gradually, the couple’s intrinsic personality discrepancy floats above the surface while the rift widens, Baoli, albeit only received low education and from a hard-up family, has the vanity of being an indigenous Wuhan citizen and a pretty face which attracts multiple suitors, so in her mind, she condescends herself to marry Xuewu, an intellectual who doesn’t hail from a big city. It is this pretentious bias which is pointedly prevalent in reality, that divides their union from the very start, certainly, Baoli is the one who should answer for this, but the wages of it is too high for her to imagine.
Desperate to find some reprieve from a harpy-like Baoli, Xuewu has a go at an extramarital liaison with a married colleague Zhou Fen (Wang Moxi), which will result in a chain reaction completely sever his family, and the most astonishingly deleterious knock-on effect incurs on Xiaobao, played by Li Xian ten years after, when the film’s second half pans out, Baoli, has been toiling as a menial shoulder-pole worker for a decade to raise Xiaobao, who is the top student in his advanced class as the annual university entrance exam is on the horizon. An oceanic divide has been mounted between Baoli and her son, the latter is closer to his paternal grandma (He Minglan) and has a chip on his shoulder with the one whom he blames for his fatherless quagmire.
Why Xiaobao is such an ingrate? Who in the climax wants to sever all ties with Baoli after a triumphant exam, in his head, nothing she has done can ever atone her sin, nor alleviate the after-effect of a traumatized childhood, and in truth, we can viscerally understand that, Baoli is not a role-model mother, but the rub here is Xiaobo selfishly, maybe also involuntarily garbles Baoli’s motive, she has made a blunder out of fury, which is his father’s own fault to begin with, she fails to foresee its disastrous consequences, and the vagaries of life has its own plan, but at any rate, to fan such a deep-dish rancor feels like beyond the pale.
FENG SHUI is a poignant ode to an imperfect, but ultimately courageous woman, and Yan Bingyan’s extraordinary leading performance is without any doubt, the film’s No. 1 asset, an achievement brought into fruition by her whole-hearted immersion into the role and a transcendent proficiency that she shines in every scene, whether Baoli appears disagreeable or ballsy, obfuscated or sagacious, heartbroken or elated, her on-the-nose acting chops shoot squarely into a viewer’s sensorium with entrancing reverberations, a performance of a lifetime is not exaggerated. Bracingly, the subordinate players are also quite game, Jiao Gang, in particular, tackles a craven character with nicety and unpretentiousness, yet, his Xuewu lingers like a wraith in the second half, which makes his blank-page revenge such an invidiously cruel stratagem in hindsight.
The titular geomancy refers to the inauspicious locus where the family’s apartment building is erected, and its original Chinese title, can be verbatim interpreted as “a thousand arrows shooting through a heart”, but Baoli doesn’t cower to the jinx, repeatedly, she holds her kismet in her own hands, it is this spirit that every audience can empathize with, and in its finale, after Baoli finally comes to terms with her son’s decision and realizes what damage she has done to her own blood, Wang Jing suffixes a wondrous final touch from a bird’s-eye view shot: Baoli leaves with the tearaway Jianjian (Chen Gang), whose second-hand van doesn’t start up, so she has to get off and give it a push, expletives included. This is life as it is, and will always be, no happy ending is vouchsafed, but Baoli epitomizes gazillions of strong women in our society, who do not cringe before the unfavorable status quo or the unforeseeable futurity, come hell or high water, FENG SHUI is a perceptive melodrama hits the bull’s eye of the inarticulate ambivalence of human feelings against checkered consequences.