Director: Shujun Wei | 2h 14mins | Drama | Languages: Mandarin
On the cusp of finishing his final year in Film School, Kun (Zhuo You) spends his time doing the bare minimum with his best friend, Tong (Tong Lin Kai). When he gets an old Jeep, he plans to drive to Inner Mongolia in search of adventure and wild horses.
For those who don’t know, Shujun’s debut feature has already been picked for the prestigious Cannes Film Festival and in fact, it’s the first arthouse film to be financed by Alibaba Pictures. So it should go without saying that there is strong belief in the director, and what’s more endearing is the fact that he’s so humble and modest. So much so that his success is just a very sweet addition to the already rewarding process of making a film completely void of outside interference. Is the hype warranted though? The answer is yes. Shujun’s debut is a slow-burning exercise of what it means to be a free-spirit in a world so strongly against that type of person – and the modesty of Shujun is wonderfully expressed with a very muted camera and an in-the-moment style.
From the opening scene of main character Kun storming out of his driving test we get to see exactly what kind of character, and film, we are about to see. He’s someone that isn’t particularly driven in a conventional sense, his life revolves around his ability to enjoy himself without conforming to the ideas of working culture. He’s certainly different, and that’s why the purchase of his new Jeep is so important. As a man who only wants to be fulfilled in leisurely fashion without the constraint of money, the outdated idea of open-road exploration (sold very well by a car salesman) is mouth-wateringly tempting for a guy like Kun.
Drawing from his own life it’s very brave of Shujun to paint the main character so frustratingly to begin with. Whatever he and his friend Tong (probably even more free-spirited than Kun) get up it to it usually involves them in their own little self-involved bubble with no real decorum as regular functioning human beings. But as the film goes on you slowly feel the restraint they feel, and how hypnotic this lifestyle really can be. They are just guys who want to do what they want, and there is no doubt that everyone has wished for that same freedom in their life.
It’s not a particularly cinematic narrative but Shujun masterfully interprets his own experiences to make them worthy of the screen and even makes them at times, hypnotic.
Kun is also trying to balance his dream of Inner Monogolia’s open road with his relationship, pressure from his girlfriends Father and also Film School. He is in charge of Sound for his final film, a role that he also gets Tong to help out with occasionally despite his incapability. He’s surrounded by Film School hopefuls who constantly reference Wong-Kar Wai while describing their artistic direction. It’s a nice little nod to directors that obviously influence Shujun, but the beauty of Striding in the Wind is that it’s never as flashy or romantic as the film’s it’s influenced by, but rather finds comfort in static shots and the mundanity of real-life boredom. It’s not a particularly cinematic narrative but Shujun masterfully interprets his own experiences to make them worthy of the screen and even makes them at times, hypnotic.
As time goes on and pressure begins to build, the care-free smirk of Kun becomes more and more absent. We see all of the interference – even the slow disintegration of his Jeep – slowly tear away at his spirit. There is a particularly moving scene where Kun and an actress, riddled with her own problems, begin kissing in the headlights of his Jeep. There is no real passion, it’s more about two lost souls trying to find any kind of excitement in a world where they are slowly being tortured or left behind. It’s subtle, and speaks volumes about the films overall ability to say so much without saying anything.
The film does become self-indulged in it’s own mute style though, at a runtime of 2 hours and 14 minutes it very often feels like a struggle to get through the odd scene here and there. But, the beauty of the film is that it’s something you’ve probably never seen before. It’s reminiscent of Ming-liang Tsai’s style, finding poetry in the everyday and the internal conflict humans suffer so much. It’s a really exciting film to come from China, a country that’s mostly judged internationally by it’s Martial Arts films.
It may be that the director just wanted his story to be heard, but in doing so he’s captured the essence of a lost narrative – that of the free-spirit. People who don’t want to be confined by societal paths, especially in China, but would rather strive to enjoy life to it’s fullest and do what they want. That mindset is becoming more and more scarce, but Shujun has reminded us of it with his subtle and provoking debut.