Last week I´ve attended the Asian Film Festival 2021 in Barcelona. Because of practical agenda issues I saw only four of the movies:

  • Hand Rolled Cigarettes (Hong Kong): Chiu is a retired member of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps of the British Army, and now ekes out a living doing odd jobs. Mani is a small-time drug dealer who gets into serious trouble when his cousin steals a stash of drugs from him. While on the run from the criminal organization, Mani is taken in by Chiu and takes refuge in his apartment. The unusual living arrangement forces the two men to overcome their cultural and racial differences.
  • Fire on the Plain (China): This dramatic thriller takes place in China in 1997. A series of murders strikes the city of Fentun. The crimes mysteriously stop without the authorities being able to find the perpetrator. Eight years later, a young policeman close to one of the victims decides to reopen the investigation despite all the consequences it brings. His discoveries disrupt the fake outcome that had brought to an end the scheme.
  • I met a Girl (Australia): follows the story of Devon (Breton Thwaites), an aspiring musician with schizophrenia who is dependent on his older brother, Nick (Joel Jackson) to care for him. However, when Nick’s wife, Olivia (Zahra Newman) becomes pregnant, they arrange for Devon to move out. On a downward spiral, Devon is saved by Lucy (Lily Sullivan) a mysterious girl who is just as impulsive and romantic as he is. After one day together, they fall completely in love. Devon then arranges for Nick to meet her, but Lucy doesn’t show. They try to find her but her apartment is empty. Nick suspects that Lucy is a delusion, while Devon, desperate to prove his sanity, discovers a note that she wrote him: meet me in Sydney. And Devon sets off on an epic, cross-country journey to find her; the girl of his dreams… who may be all in his head.
  • 1990 (Mongolia): After the fall of the USSR, Mongolia suffers a wave of violence, corruption and disorder. The citizens do their best to survive in an uncertain era dominated by chaos, uncertainty, violence… At the same time, Western influences arrive in the country and become popular among the youth.

It stroked me that most movies played into a time space where the old order collapsed, leaving people disoriented and to fend for themselves. The biggest difference between the movies I could discern was between the Australian movie and the other ones. The latter follows the Hollywood script of a happy ending while the Asiatic ones where not so hung up on a happy ending and portraited people more like they are.

For example, in Anglo-Saxon movies you rarely see a “good” protagonist smoke, drink, or display ambiguous moral behavior without a redemption arc. They usually have a happy ending. Not so in Asiatic movies: they paint a more morally greyish image of their protagonists. The “good” as well the “bad” ones. Not mention that they often have an ending that would not be appreciated by a Hollywood public: either they die or turn events into their advantage by committing some robbery, murder, or blackmail. In short, in most Asiatic movies the “good protagonists” mostly reach their desired goals by either sacrificing their lives or their moral integrity.

The title of this post, Noman´s Land, indicates faults into the time/space of human society where an era comes to an end while transiting to another one. The Asiatic movies I saw showed how on one side of China the Soviet Union collapsed, while on the other side the West was moving out of China´s border regios Hongkong and Macau, leaving populations on both sides of the country who lived across those borders in a societally limbo. At the same time China itself made the transition from a Marxist economy towards a free market economy with all the angles of wild capitalism that this entailed.

There is no doubt that China will become the next dominant player on the world scene. The only question that’s still open is: What kind of China?

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