Back to the Wharf (Feng Ping Lang Jing) (2020) [Fantasia Film Festival 2021] 

A teen who went on the run returns home fifteen years later and finds himself pulled back into what had him leave in the first place. 

Director Xiaofeng Li’s film brings a story of family, honor, desperation, and mistakes to the screen in a manner that is personal, emotional, and pulls you in. The film’s writing and directing are not afraid to show actions and emotions as they are while the directing brings them to the screen in a manner that does not feel intrusive, but feels just right. It’s one of those films where things take their time, but it’s not a chore to watch the proceedings. There’s a lot in there of course and some of it may not connect with all, but the despair of the lead at certain times, the lack of empathy from some of the characters, the extremes some go for their end whether planned or not, it all comes together to create a film that is engrossing and something to watch. 

The cast here is solid, all giving strong performances with Yu Zhang as the lead being the strongest of them. His work here is something to be seen for it depicts emotions on a deep level, difficult emotions, without ever going in to the ham-y territory that many get to in these kinds of films. Playing his father, Yanhui Wang shows nuance and multiple facets of one man. His emotional work early in the film shows that there is much more to his character than what can be seen on the surface. Playing a character that comes in a bit later into the film, Jia Song does fantastic work as the acquaintance of the lead who becomes more and makes his consider life differently. Her character’s impact is felt throughout the second half of the film and her performance works perfectly for it. 

The cinematography by Piao Songri is beautiful and dark. It shows the characters and their emotions without flinching, but it also sets up a world that is sad and a bit filled with despair. It’s the kind of work that is almost poetic in how the camera frames the characters and how the light is caught making them show emotions in the right way. 

This new film noir is one that may be a bit difficult for international audiences to get their hands on, but very much worth the search. It’s a masterful film filled with despair, emotions, and a journey that takes the viewer along for better or for worst. 

The Fantasia International Film Festival runs every year, and this year runs virtually from August 5th until August 25th.