One example of ‘A Chinese Tale’ as viewed by several Douglas students
By Hannah Galve, Contributor
A Chinese couple are in a boat in the middle of a lake, clearly happily in love. Suddenly, a cow flies out of the sky, overturning the boat they are both on, immediately killing the woman just as her partner was about to propose. “Is this the beginning of a very long elaborate joke,” you may ask? No, this is the opening scene of the 2012 film A Chinese Tale, written and directed by Sebastián Borensztein, and in that one scene alone, it sets up the tone of the film as a whole: humorous, but also quite dark and tragic. Besides serving as the closing gala film to this year’s Vancouver Latin American Film Festival, A Chinese Tale was also screened last Wednesday night at the New West campus.
While the film gives us two central characters–the first of which being Jun (Ignacio Huang), the Chinese man from the opening scene, who has come to our setting of Buenos Aires to search for his last living relative, an uncle—it is Roberto (Ricardo Darin), the second man we meet, who I consider to be the true central character. In the very first scene in which he is introduced, Roberto is aggressively counting the number of screws he has received in a box. After realizing that he’s received less than what was promised, he calls up the supplier and yells at him for cheating on their deal.
Roberto’s interactions with his customers are quick and to the point. His exchanges with Mari (Muriel Santa Ana), a friend and our love interest, are distant and awkward as he clearly tries to push her away. He lives alone and has a set (and ever so bland) daily. It is only when he meets Jun—thrown from a cab no less—during one of his daily routines that we see Roberto diverge from the ordinary.
The dynamic relationship between Jun and Roberto is fairly consistent throughout the film. They communicate via gestures due to neither of them being capable of speaking the other’s language. Jun does everything that Roberto tells him to the point where Roberto finds himself counting down the days until Jun’s uncle is finally located.
“There are two things I notice very quickly in people: integrity and suffering, and you have them both,” Mari says to Roberto via letter, an aspect we see throughout the film. Despite the many instances where he tries to abandon Jun, he can never really find it in himself to leave him. Regardless of his gruffness and lack of warmth towards people, Roberto is a man with a good heart.
The writing of Roberto’s character is one of the biggest strengths of the film. He’s flawed and therefore incredibly human, allowing us to connect with him despite coldness that stems from loneliness. He comes across as a real person with issues and problems; he’s not entirely likeable, but that’s what makes him all the more fascinating. However, in the case of Jun’s character, I felt as if the writing faltered. Instead of becoming his own character, Jun instead becomes a sort of catalyst for Roberto’s development. It is through him that Roberto learns to move past his own pain and find happiness for himself, but we don’t quite see how Roberto affected Jun.
Despite the lack of a fuller development, it really is the steady relationship between Jun and Roberto where the film truly shined. The main idea that seems to surround this film is the idea of being alone, and the different types of loneliness one can feel. These types are contrasted in our two main characters: Roberto is a man who chooses to be alone despite the many instances of people trying to get closer, while Jun is a man who has nothing and no one and is desperately and actively seeking to find and be with his last remaining family member.
A Chinese Tale is about a lot of things: self-discovery, loneliness, friendship, love, but perhaps most importantly of all, it is about closure, and learning to let go of the thoughts that hurt us most. It’s a story about finally moving on beyond our tragedies, and how sometimes closure unravels in ways we might not have expected, in this case, with a flying cow.