By Mónica Delgado
With jury and Best Director awards in the recent Pingyao Film Festival, this debut film by Chinese filmmaker Liang Ming arrives at Rotterdam in the Bright Future section. This is a film that allows us to put in value this work of neon and industrial climates in a country halted in peripheries and suburbs which are dependent of a strict work life. Wisdom Tooth describes with different atmospheres part of the life of a young worker in the provinces, Gu Xi (Lyu Xingchen), who acts elusive and strange when the girlfriend of his only brother (the actor Xioliang Wu), who shares an uncommon relationship with her, arrives. Jealousy between brothers from this meddling that breaks the family union sets the tone for the film. Beyond the plot, there’s much déjà vu to different recent film in this sort of setting of guilt due to the development of these industrialized countries, through the emotional reflexes of the characters, here feminine ones, inside a social rhythm that prays on its society
The achievement of Liang Ming resides in how he builds the character of Gu Xi, as a very independent sister who is also an only child, without anyone besides this oscillating brother. Parties, birthdays, walks, trace a route of nonconformity of this character, who cannot own her brother, even with some uncomfortable moments close to incest (which are the most jarring in the film) and also lesbian ones. Neon and a wintery climate become two essential elements of the film staging, especially to draw this sadness of a sister that can’t get a job and has no documents. There’s a search for filiation and also a route to maturity, defined as well by the symbol of the title name that becomes literal.
Wisdom Tooth is a drama with narrative games of film staging, where Liang Ming plays with the temporal possibilities as oneiric resources. Which starts as a film of work and filial relationships, slowly mutates to a thriller with a mix of love drama and come coming-of-age elements, showing the path that Gu Xi travels to a real adult life.
Despite some melodramatic elements, the film manages to show itself very in tune to the hopeless and self-absorbed sensibility of new independent Chinese cinema (and also has certain similarities to the fathers of this generation like Jia Zhang-Ke). In any way, there’s an expectation of watching future works from this young filmmaker, who has shown to be rigorous in his design of female characters.
Director and screenwriter: Liang Ming
Producers: Sean Chen, Sun Yang
Editing: Zhu Lin
Cinematography: He Shan
Production design: Ma Hongwei
Music: Ding Ke
Cast: Lyu Xingchen, Xiaoliang Wu, Jiajia Wang, Weishen Wang
China, 2019, 104 min