China, 2010, colour, 16:9, 85 mins.
Director: Qi Weimin 齐为民.
Charming village tale set by the Yangtze river is as light as a feather.
Tiaoshi village, near Wushan, on the Yangtze river, the present day. The Education Department has decided to end the practice of the local teacher being cooked meals in rotation by the villagers as a mark of respect, and sends a cook, Chu Zhenghe (Wang Hongguang), to do the job. At the same time a younger, university-educated teacher, Han (Han Huiliang), arrives to replace the middle-aged Zhang (Li Bao’an), who’s been in the job for 30 years. Chu is happy to return to his native village so he can finally marry childhood sweetheart Qing (Ren Lin), who’s now a widow; but the locals are not happy at this break in an age-old custom. Some of the schoolkids, led by Guang (Zheng Zhiyuan) and Yue (Chen Yikehan), decide to sabotage his job.
Half a children’s film, half a tale about the pull between tradition and modernity, Sending Meal 派饭 has the feel of a short story but at a tight 85 minutes doesn’t push its luck or aim for the stars. Much helped by a non-star cast that seems just right (including children who aren’t impossibly cute), and crystal clear photography by Taiwan veteran Chen Kunhou 陈坤厚 that always features the Yangtze river as an awesome backdrop, it’s like an oldstyle rural allegory shorn of any doctrinaire element. In fact, in its utter simplicity and likeable characters, it’s almost the kind of film that Chen – whose fine movies as a director during the 1980s are ripe for re-discovery – could have made himself.
Director-producer Qi Weimin 齐为民 – one of the producers of The Exam 考试, 2006, directed by Pu Jian 蒲剑 – succinctly draws a small hillside community that isn’t easily going to be told what to do by far-off bureaucrats, and there’s an underlying strain of humour that always keeps things light. Small details are sketched in: the loneliness of the older teacher, Zhang, who’s devoted his life to the village but was separated from his wife 20 years ago, and the ambition of the younger one who’s under pressure to move on from the village and pursue a more lucrative career in a big city. Despite its opening and closing, with succulent shots of dishes being prepared, Sending Meal isn’t a foodie movie; but it’s still nicely satisfying in a small way.
A more attractive English title would be welcome. The one on the print is Sending Meal, which literally translates the Chinese. The film is also known on publicity material as Arranged Meals for Teachers and (best of all) Meals Arrangement.
Presented by Beijing Haiyan Heqing Film Culture (CN). Produced by Beijing Haiyan Heqing Film Culture (CN).
Script: Yang Aijun, Yang Kuang. Original story: Qi Weimin. Photography: Chen Kunhou. Editing: Xu Qi. Music: Yang Bin. Art direction: Xu Guoxian. Costumes: Liu Jun. Sound: Bao Youyou. Script advice: Zhang Zhenqin. Executive director: Cao Jing.
Cast: Li Bao’an (Zhang, teacher), Wang Hongguang (Chu Zhenghe, cook), Han Huiliang (Han, teacher), Hong Hua (Qing’s mother), Wang Ning (Yue’s elder sister), Ren Lin (Qing), Chen Yikehan (Wang Xiaoyue), Zheng Zhiyuan (Guang), Wang Shuzhen (Qing’s grandmother), Fu Kongzhong (Yue’s father), Ren Xiaohong (Yue’s mother), Fu Zhonggui (Guang’s grandfather), Wang Qunying (Guang’s grandmother), He Yunqing (village head), Liu Dayong (education department head).
Premiere: Shanghai Film Festival (View China), 16 Jun 2010.
Release: China, tba.
(Review originally published on Film Business Asia, 18 Jul 2010.)